Sleep loss and "divergent" thinking ability

Sleep. 1988 Dec;11(6):528-36. doi: 10.1093/sleep/11.6.528.


Although much is known about the impact of sleep loss on many aspects of psychological performance, the effects on divergent ("creative") thinking has received little attention. Twelve subjects went 32 h without sleep, and 12 others acted as normally sleeping controls. All subjects were assessed on the figural and verbal versions of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. As compared with the control condition, sleep loss impaired performance on all test scales (e.g., "flexibility," the ability to change strategy, and "originality," generation of unusual ideas) for both versions, even on an initial 5-min test component. In an attempt at further understanding of whether these findings might be explained solely by a loss of motivation, two additional short and stimulating tests were also used--a word fluency task incorporating high incentive to do well and a challenging nonverbal planning test. Performance at these tasks was still significantly impaired by sleep loss. Increased perseveration was clearly apparent. Apparently, 1 night of sleep loss can affect divergent thinking. This contrasts with the outcome for convergent thinking tasks, which are more resilient to short-term sleep loss.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal*
  • Attention
  • Creativity*
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychological Tests
  • Sleep Deprivation*
  • Thinking*