The Art of zzzs: Your Next Masterpiece Might be a Good Nights Sleep

Next up in our Year of Good Sleep wellness series: art for better sleep! 

Research shows time and time again art can play an influential role in reducing stress and promoting relaxation. It lowers cortisol levels, builds perspective, and increases coping abilities. Lower stress levels, in turn, leads to a more relaxed mind, less tossing and turning, and therefore an overall better quality of sleep.

Interestingly, good sleep can also lead to less stress: according to the National Sleep Foundation, “the brain chemicals connected with deep sleep are the same ones that tell the body to stop the production of stress hormones.”

We’re here for a good night’s sleep, so we asked Pat Macias, the Executive Director of monca (the Museum of Northern California Art) to get her expert opinions on how you can use art to get better zzzs.


First off, could you tell us a bit about monca and your own experience with art?

The idea for monca started in 2011, with a group of Butte County residents interested in showcasing great art. We did art pop-ups around town from 2011-2017, and then moved into the previous Veterans Memorial building on Esplanade, where we’ve been ever since. I personally am a printmaker by trade and degree and was an art teacher for 36 years in various cities across the US. I moved to Chico shortly after retiring and briefly worked as the director of the 1078 Art Gallery. Since then, I’ve been actively involved with monca!


You’ve clearly been exposed to many types of art over the years. What would you consider to be “art”?

Having taught all ages, I’ve definitely heard the “Oh, I can’t draw” or “that’s not art” fears from many students. Art gets this awful reputation of being elite or something only certain people can do. But that’s simply not true! Art is anything you can see or consider to be creative. Think about going on a walk and taking a picture with your phone–it’s art! The photo you took most likely includes principles of art you don’t even realize are artistic, like color compositions or shapes. You’ve framed it up with your phone lens, taken the picture, and voila–it becomes art.


In your experience, what are the benefits of creating art? 

To me, it calms me down. If I am sitting and thinking, the physical part just calms down also. Another artist currently on display at monca recently shared: “I can be all riled up about something, and then I go into my studio, start my art, and my mind starts to focus on the art–not all the other stuff that’s happening around me.” 

Art helps you find a solution to what’s coming next, and it might take you to another place in your mind where you get excited because you see a connection to what you’re doing or remind you of a peaceful memory or image.


Let’s talk about COVID-19. What are some ways art can help people cope with stressors from the pandemic?

It can help in three ways:

  • Doing art: taking your mind off of anything else than what you’re doing at that moment.
  • Reading about art: this is interesting way to see what other people have come up with
  • Looking at art: In a book, magazine, or even Google. It might take you somewhere calming in your mind. (Bonus: here are some collections of calming pictures from Pinterest, Unsplash, YouTube, and artnet)


Great! Any specifics on some art projects we can try for “doing art”?

For Adults/Couples

  • Draw a portrait of each other at the same time. Sit across the table from each other, use any medium you want, and see what comes up. 
  • Find shadows. Maybe it’s light reflecting through a glass of wine, or a leaf in the park, or even a unique angle in your WFH office. Take photos of those things, then come back and sketch them or use them as photo art.
  • Start a weekly book or diary. Writing is art! Come up with a word for each day or week, and write a page or a few sentences about that word together. When you look back on your reflections together for the year, it will be an incredible compilation. 


  • Take a photo of your favorite meal. Then paint a picture of it! With a kid and adult you’ll see different things. Or, you can work on the same painting together as a shared family piece. 
  • Add-on monster. Create a “monster” by pasting together magazine cutouts, stickers, paint, you have it. Green grass could be a skirt, or a bunch of cut-out chairs glued together could be hair. Make one big monster piece together. 
  • Toilet paper tube sculpture. Cut and slice them so you can wedge them together without glue or tape. If it’s nice rough afterwards, you can take it outside and spray paint it. 


It doesn’t take a lot of supplies or expenses to do an art project, and art comes in many forms. Cooking, knitting, crocheting, quilting, interior decorating, putting up pictures, origami, lint creatures with string, chalk on the sidewalk–they all count as art! 


What if a person doesn’t consider themselves to be “creative”? Can they still make art?

Absolutely! Creative really has no limits, and you don’t have to be a Van Gogh or Monet to make art. I’d recommend you start by simply experiencing your surroundings. Go for a walk. Visit Bidwell Park. View the building where you’re picking up take-out. Start a dance party in the house with your kids. You can’t look enough. A lot of creating art is being able to put those observations together.


A great place to look is also museums, so what’s the best way to look at art these days when museums are closed? 

The monca has a really wonderful #museumfromhome right now where you can experience our Virtual Pop Up Museum and view all the art currently on display at the museum. The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento is also doing something similar with weekly at-home programs. Google has gotten onboard by showcasing art highlights from some of the most famous museums around the world.

Is there any famous art you hope people have more time to see or appreciate during the pandemic?

I hope everybody Googles “diversity.” There are so many diverse artists out there and they are so full of incredible ideas. Now is a great time to learn more about the different kinds of art and inspiration in the world. 

Any last advice for Butte County during this time?

  • Be kind.
  • Be mindful.
  • Be creative.
  • Be safe.
  • Stay tuned… ?

Year of Good Sleep Challenge: 

This week, try one of the projects suggested above, take some pictures on your phone, or visit an online art gallery. All of these ideas are great ways to reduce stress and give your body the gift of a good night’s sleep.

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