Writers of ages past produced their masterworks without a computer, or even a typewriter, for centuries. Chaucer, Cervantes, Shakespeare—each made manifest his creative genius with only a quill in hand. Likewise, they managed to write without electricity, without indoor plumbing, without access to cars or telephones or the Internet.
What they did need to support their intellect and creativity was food, water, human relationships…and sleep. Without enough sleep, good health, good living, and good writing are impossible.
Why Your Sleeping Habits Matter And Improve Your Writing
Science confirms that sleep can make you smarter and more creative. In a study referenced in National Geographic Daily News, people who took naps that plunged them into REM sleep performed better on creativity-oriented word problems. Scores of other scientific studies document the importance of sleep to good health—both physical and mental.
For the amateur or professional writer, too little sleep has numerous bad effects. When tired, you have less “get up and go.”
Does this scenario sound familiar? Let’s say you have to start writing, but you just can’t get off the couch: “I’ll sit here another half hour, and then I’ll tackle the work.”
Finally, you force yourself to sit at your desk. You stare at the computer screen—but ideas, words, and phrases do not blossom. Your brain is just not working. You put your chin on your open palm and stare blankly out the window. Without enough sleep, you do not think clearly.
After great struggle, you finally manage to get a few paragraphs written. You turn off the computer and think, “I’ll take a look at this later.” When later arrives, you read what you’d written and discover the grammar is poor, punctuation is missing, and you’ve used a word or two unartfully. Without enough sleep, you make lots of mistakes.
If this sounds like your writing life, the problem may have more to do with your sleeping habits than a lack of motivation.
How To Sleep Better (And Write Better)
- Don’t fight your body clock. Some people just aren’t cut out for going to bed at 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. Having a shorter night’s sleep supplemented by a late-afternoon nap works well for many. Others need a solid eight hours of shut-eye. Base your sleep schedule on what your body wants rather than on the clock.
- Exercise. The importance of regular exercise for good sleep is well established. For sleep purposes, though, it is important that you don’t exercise late in the day. Exercise speeds up your metabolism; that is great for getting you through the day with full energy, but as you enter the hours before going to bed, you’ll want your body slowing down, not speeding up.
- Unwind. For the thirty or so minutes before bedtime, turn off the TV, the computer, and yes, your portable devices. You want to be emptying your mind of controversy and stress-inducing thoughts. Take a long, warm shower. Meditate for a few minutes. Have a cup of chamomile tea. Limit this time to quiet conversation or listening to soothing music—anything that tends to calm rather than stimulate.
- Make your sleep space inviting. Analyze your bed and bedding—sheets, blankets, pillows—and choose each element for maximum comfort. Paint the bedroom a calming hue, not a stimulating “hot” color. Make your bed and bedroom so tranquil and inviting that you can’t wait to go to bed!
- Diminish noise. The most common cause of sleep disruption is noise. Many people swear by having white noise in the background. There are small devices that not only mask street noise, but generate their own soothing sounds such as falling rain, gently crashing waves, and babbling brooks. A simple fan can achieve the same result, albeit with a monotonous hum.
- Reconsider sharing your bed. Consider not giving your pet access to your bedroom during sleep time. Pets can disturb sleep time without your necessarily knowing it. What cat owner hasn’t been roused out of a sound sleep by Fluffy jumping up on the bed in the middle of the night, or by a dog circling, circling until it settles down?
- Manage the light. As delightful as a sunny morning can be, it is not so grand when sunlight pours through your window three hours earlier than you wanted to wake up. Your bedroom should be as dark as possible during sleep hours. Position your bed so that sunlight won’t land on the pillows. If you have blinds, pull the strings so that the slats are pitched upward rather than downward. If your curtains are lightweight, consider getting a thicker, light-blocking type, or install roller shades to be pulled down when you go to bed.
Sleep is every bit as important to a writer’s success as the desire to tell a story and the mastery of language. In a writer’s arsenal, every letter of the alphabet is important. But as it turns out, no letter is more important to creative writing than the Z-z-z-z-z-z-z!
Question: What most often disturbs your sleep?
What keeps me awake? A poem that wakes me up with its beauty. Words that must be written down, or they jump ship by morning. Not good.
Nocturnal epileptic seizures. They sure play havoc with a full decent nights sleep, trashing REM and knocking my brain sideways leaving my focus and concentration shot to pieces the next day.
A lot of times, I will wake up in the middle of the night and get a line in my head, and cannot go back to sleep until I write that down. Sometimes, I take a long time writing notes in my journal so that I will remember all that comes out. My best ideas usually come at night. Then I can sleep fitfully.
lol, I know from experience that good writing isn’t literally /impossible/ without sleep.