Is counting sheep not helping with sleep? Try coloring, or in fact, creating any artwork. 

Physical distancing restrictions, disruptions in daily routines, as well as public health and economic concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had negative effects on mental health and sleep patterns, according to the American Journal of Managed Care. These factors contribute to more people experiencing insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by a difficulty falling or staying asleep. Between February and March of 2020, sleep medication prescriptions increased by 15%. 

Wayne State University professors and art therapists say creative expression may help achieve a full night of sleep. 

Art therapy utilizes creative activities —such as drawing, painting, collage and many other mediums— to help individuals experiencing mental or physical health challenges, according to Psychology Today

“The expression of activity is very healthy for people. It allows for exploring one’s thoughts and feelings, organizing your thoughts and feelings about what is happening in your life or things that you’d like to work on or change,” said Margaret Sands-Goldstein, an adjunct professor for the WSU art therapy graduate program. 

Mindfulness art therapy is a deeply intertwined relationship with the body and the mind, said Julie Moreno, WSU College of Education counseling and art therapy graduate program adjunct professor. Art therapy is shown to increase blood flow in areas of the brain that deal with emotion and memory. This increased blood flow also correlates with decreased anxiety symptoms in individuals and a reduction of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. 

“Anxiety issues definitely impact sleep hygiene, and I really think art therapy is a mental profession that actually uses the creative process of art-making to improve and enhance physical mental, emotional well-being really of individuals of all ages,” Moreno said. 

Sands-Goldstein said the use of art therapy improves sleep. 

“Creative engagement that you can be in when you’re making something or having an innovative experience is right for your brain,” Sands-Goldstein said. Anything one can engage in to relax, feel calm and centered is useful for reducing anxiety. 

“Studies have been done where they’ve looked at people’s brains and found that coloring does the same things to someone’s brain that meditation does,” Sands-Goldstein said. “So, if you’re looking for a way to relax and to feel calmer and more centered, anything that you engage in fully is good.”

Jill Galsterer, a 2020 WSU graduate in mental health counseling and art therapy, said she suggests to her clients who may be anxious about work or the pandemic to get out a sketchbook and doodle or color before going to bed. 

“It causes your brain to relax, and in turn doing that, it’s an opportunity to sort of switch your brain into more of a meditative state,” Galsterer said.

Communicating personal worries on paper may help clear the mind, Sands-Goldstein said.

“If you can express your concerns and your feelings through writing or drawing or painting that would decrease your anxiety generally, and then when it’s time to go to bed, it might be easier to turn your brain off if you’re not feeling quite so anxious,” Sands-Goldstein said. 

Mental health professionals have adjusted to new treatment methods during the pandemic, Galsterer said. 

“(T)herapists are now learning and training themselves in certain ways to be able to do art therapy via telehealth, and it’s working,” Galsterer said.

While art therapy is not offered at WSU Counseling and Psychological Services, Galasterer said she still recommends students look into the many virtual mental health programs that are available.CAPS can be reached at (313) 577-3398 or caps@wayne.edu.


Bethany Owens is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at gx6114@wayne.edu

Cover art created by Dori Gross, graphic designer for The South End. She can be reached at gh6421@wayne.edu