Maybe you’re a morning person. No coffee or alarm clock needed to get you up bright and early. You squeeze in a workout before most people are even awake, and you’re the first one to the office each morning. Your productivity’s peak is prior to the sun’s. Or perhaps you’re a night owl. You eat dinner at 9pm, you continually shut down the gym, and most of your work emails have a post-midnight timestamp. Everyone knows it’s when the sun’s down that you’re down to business.

Most people identify with one of these categories — each with their own set of pros and cons — more so than the other. And we all know that the sleep deprivation we feel when we’re forced out of our zone is a real productivity-killer. But what if we told you that, when it comes to creativity, your highest level of functioning is at the exact opposite of the time you’d expect? According to a study conducted by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks and published in the scientific journal Thinking & Reasoning, humans are at our most creative when we’re tired.

A woman rests while working on a project

Subjects of the research were administered a test to determine whether they considered themselves morning or evening people. Whichever time resulted was then considered each participant’s “optimal time of day” in terms of productivity and focus. They were then asked to solve different types of problems at various points during the day. Surprisingly, the subjects of the study demonstrated the best performance on the “insight” problems during their “non-optimal time of day” — i.e., morning people thought more creatively at night and vice versa. The reason? When the brain is alert, it is efficient at filtering out distractions and, consequently, focusing on the task at hand. When drowsy, the brain reverts to a state of broadened thinking, opening the floodgates to a wider range of information and varying interpretations of ideas. This state of “broadened thinking” can be aptly referred to as creative thinking.

This finding, though seemingly counterintuitive at first, actually makes a lot of sense. Every early bird has had a brilliant idea during a bedtime shower and, likewise, a night owl right after they hit the snooze button. Although we still recommend striving for the full eight hours a night, who knows: Maybe missing a few winks here and there will result in your next novel idea, project proposal, or even killer Instagram caption.

When do you find your creative juices flowing? Share with us on Twitter @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)