Monday, June 22, 2009

Sleeping and Writing

Over the past few months, quite a number of articles have been published in various newspapers and magazines about the effects of not enough sleep. Some of these include tiredness (obviously!), stress, poor immune system, falling asleep without realising (e.g. when driving) and, strangely, inability to sleep. I guess that last one is what my mother used to call being "overtired". But the studies also show that lack of sleep can lead to obesity, mental impairment and depression, among other things. Not sure about the obesity, although it seems to be the effect on your metabolism that's the problem.

While I was away on holiday, I got an amazing amount of sleep. At home, I wake up several times each night. Sometimes it's to put the cats out (and they hardly ever go out at the same time!), often it's because of my husband tossing and turning. I have just had ten nights of sleeping on an excellent bed, and probably seven of those nights I slept through without waking. Each time it happened, I was surprised, not least because each time it reminded me of how poor my sleep at home must be.

What effect did this have on me? For a start, I had a lot more energy. Not "get up and go" energy but a deeper core of simply being able to cruise through each day without feeling slow and achey. It didn't take very long at all before I felt restored and ready to write, and my brain also felt like it had extra space in it, space I could use for creating, thinking and putting good words together. Of course, when you realise this, you can't help wondering how much poor-quality creating might be going on at other times!

Writers tend to think they don't need to be fit and healthy to write. After all, don't we just sit all day? In fact, we need to be as healthy as we can possibly be in order for our brains to function well and for us to put energy and enthusiasm into each day of wordsmithing. That means food (including snacks) that restore and feed us properly - keep the chocolate for a reward! Not too much coffee or alcohol. Exercise that helps to keep our bodies functioning, such as stretches and walking. Hours at the computer lead to some awful injuries to our arms, neck and shoulders.

But to all of that, I'd add good sleep, and put it at the top of the list. If we're rested, we're better able to cope with deadlines, blocks and that knotty bit in Chapter 4 that just won't work. If we're rested, we can cope with burnout, lack of ideas and deal with interruptions without losing our temper. We don't need coffee or anything else that might be a stimulant. We have headspace and are relaxed enough to use it well.

Some people hate routine. They think that being creative is all about burning the midnight oil, or the 3am oil, that going to bed earlier, at a regular time, and getting 8 hours is boring. If I was 20 or even 30, I'd probably think the same. But I'm not - and I love a great sleep!

P.s The winner of Tracey Binns is Lost was The Well-Read Rabbit! Please email me your postal address to kidsbooks at optusnet dot com dot au. Thanks, everyone, who posted a comment.

7 comments:

simmone said...

this is true -i tend to be a bit of night owl - especially when writing but for recently I tried for some early nights and the added to bonus to actually feeling better, mental clarity etc etc was that I remembered my dreams and they were like books I was yet to write ...

Cathy said...

So true about sleeping being absolutely essential. I really can't function well without 8 hours of sleep, Saturday night I got 5, and I was really struggling by the end of the yesterday. I also appreciated your comments about how writers need to look after themselves, and routine as well.

Jen said...

Very true, and nicely put!

Sherryl said...

simmone - what a great bonus! I have some weird dreams that might inspire a story, but I can only remember flashes. The theory is to keep a dream notebook right next to the bed, but that means turning the light on!

Sherryl said...

Cathy - missing a few hours never used to worry me, but I really feel it now. I'm into the zone with the nanna nap!

Thanks, Jen!

Kristi Holl said...

Sherryl, back in January when I took Margie Lawson's "Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors" class, the one behavior that I needed to change--and this one stood head and shoulders above all the other habits--was to get more sleep. I had every "creativity deficient" symptom of sleep deprivation that was listed. I have certain places where I sleep like a rock too--and it's heavenly!!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you guys had the chance to see www.wisdombeyondbeings.com well its about a woman who writes whilst she sleeps, it looks and sounds miraculous,it seems like we have a female messenger on our hands. A must see.

Pat