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Rest Your Writer’s Brain

(c) Roy JH Han (CC BY-ND 2.0) icanhascheezeburger.com

(c) Roy JH Han (CC BY-ND 2.0) icanhascheezeburger.com

This week will wrap up The Healthy Writer’s Body series and the topic for today’s post is sleep.  Now who doesn’t love a little shut eye?  We all do it, we all enjoy it.  Sleep is the body’s natural process of recharging and rejuvenating.  The problem is most of us don’t get enough of it.

Jobs, family, personal commitments, writing–these all take up so many hours of our day that, in the end, we sacrifice sleep to fit in all these activities.  I admit I am one of the biggest offenders of giving up sleep to get things done.  And does it ever take a toll on my body and writing.  Studies have shown that getting less than 5 hours of sleep per night decreases brain function and makes it harder for one to concentrate. Motivation, creativity, and other cognitive functions are also negatively affected.

When I am tired, I can barely form a sentence let alone put forth any structuring to a story.  That all takes some serious brain power to plot and develop.  I am sluggish and the act of typing is exhausting.  Words float out of my brain and are lost when I try to focus on them.  Sleep deprivation makes me lose hold of whatever writing skills I have.  It is a very ugly thing to see one go through.

So as a writer, you want to make sure that you make sleep a priority in your daily routine.  That means you may have to restructure your day, say “no” to some things, or find time to take naps.

Waking up and still feeling exhausted means that you did not get enough sleep.  If you have a set time that you must get up everyday and you feel sluggish throughout the day, there is a good chance you are being forced to wake before you normal circadian alarm clock goes off.  A circadian clock is your natural, internal alarm clock that wakes you when you have had enough sleep.  For most, they are being forced to wake 2 hours before their natural clock goes off.  This wreaks havoc on one’s brain.

A way to counteract this is to go to bed 2 hours earlier at night so that you get the full amount of sleep that your body needs.  A standard of “8 hours a night” is a good ideal timeframe, but everyone is different.  Some need more, others need an hour less.  The goal is to recondition your body to automatically wake up at the time that you need to roll out of bed by adjusting your schedule.

As humans are diurnal beings, we wake best when the sun is rising.  Unfortunately, most of us have to wake before the sun is up.  I personally can’t wake up if the sun hasn’t risen.  This past winter has been the worst experience in my life in trying to wake before the sun is up.  So I purchased a Philips Wake-up Light Alarm Clock.  Combining this alarm clock with going to bed earlier, I have found that I am waking just as the alarm’s light is coming on–about 30 minutes before I am actually supposed to be up.

Once you are on a better sleep cycle, you will notice that your cognitive abilities and writing output will increase.  Also, as a bonus, your memory will become stronger.  A benefit to this is that you will be able to better remember your dreams.  And since you are sleeping more and your sleep quality is better, you will dream more.  Soon you will find yourself spewing with creativity and story ideas!

Here are some ways to better your sleep cycle:

  • Figure out your ideal sleep timeframe and balance that against your circadian clock.  Adjust your day’s schedule accordingly.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark as possible.  No one likes to sleep with a light shining in their face.
  • The best sleeping temperature is between 60F-75F / 15C-23C.  Ensure the room is well ventilated too.  Sleep hates hot, stuffy rooms!
  • Establish a routine.  Maybe your routine is that you wash your face, brush your teeth, tuck your puppy into her bed, and then climb into yours.  Doing that process on a daily basis signals to your brain you are getting ready to go to sleep.  This will help queue your sleep cycle, making it come on quicker as soon as your head hits the pillow.

Having trouble falling asleep?

  • Introduce essential oils in infusers in your bedroom.  The scent of certain oils, like Lavender, aid the sleep system (NOTE: Do not use an infuser that requires an open flame.  Fire and sleep do not mix).
  • Drink decaf herbal tea.  Herbal teas with chamomile help to calm the body and prepare it for sleep.  A good suggestion is to drink it a few hours before actually going to bed or you will wake up in the middle of the night having to pee.
  • Listen to soothing music, nocturnal nature sounds, or white noise as you try to fall asleep.  There are many products out there that have a timer that plays these sounds for a specified amount of time, turning off after you have fallen asleep.
  • Avoid electronic devices and exercise right before laying down.  Both are stimulants and increase your heart rate and brain activity.  This counteracts with your body as it is trying to wind down towards slumber.

Also, don’t forget about the amazing power of naps.  Naps are not only good for kids, they are fabulous for adults.  When you are feeling exhausted, put your head down and take a 20 minute power nap.  It is a good way to recharge and make it through the rest of your day.  Taking one 20 minute nap around midday will not impact your sleep cycle.

I hope you have enjoyed The Healthy Writer’s Body series and have learned that taking care of your writer’s body will help you succeed in your writing career.  Now, go take a nap!
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12 thoughts on “Rest Your Writer’s Brain

  1. Great series Amanda, thanks for sharing such great advice. I guard time with my dreams and pillow very carefully. I have rarely had a problem getting enough sleep 😉 But, on those occasions where I have been forced to get less than I need, my body certainly reminds me in an unmistakable way! Best wishes for vivid dreams transformed into words on a page 🙂

    • You are welcome and thank you for following! It is amazing how our bodies let us know when we don’t have enough sleep. I guess bodies get cranky too 🙂 Thanks for the wishes! I hope that I am able to catch up on the sleep train soon!

  2. This has been a very helpful series Amanda. The biggest problem I ever had with sleep was solved by getting up (roughly) the same time on weekends as I do during the week. By the way, my feet are flat on the floor.

    • I suffer from the same problem too. However, I have noticed that the light up alarm clock has been helping me with that. This past week I have finally been able to wake up at 5:30 am every day!

      Glad to hear your feet are flat on the floor. Now you just have to keep them there 😉

  3. I’ve enjoyed this series a great deal – kudos!

    Over the last several weeks, I’ve been getting almost eight hours of sleep per night where I used to barely get 5-6. I made up my mind that in order to become a better writer, I had to become more disciplined about choices and a healthy lifestyle. So, now I’m often in bed by 8:30 or 9 pm. I get up at 5 pm, and workout for 45 minutes, then get ready for work. I work a forty hour week, have an almost 2 hour per day commute. As you might imagine, on week nights, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing. I play catch up on weekends as far as the writing is concerned. 🙂

    • We have very similar schedules as I also have a full time job and commute about 2 hours. Makes finding time to fit in writing tough. I think I am going to try to adopt what you do and wake up even earlier to work out as I find almost no time in the evenings anymore. Will just have to force myself to go to bed earlier. And somehow squeeze in somewhere an hour of writing… *sigh* why can’t we just live off 3 hours of sleep!

      Thanks for the follow and I am happy you enjoyed the series!

  4. Naps are awesome! My natural sleep rhythm does not work in today’s world, so finding schedules that work and keep me writing at my best is a long-time search for me. Thanks so much for the series. I’m using quite a few tips from your posts.

  5. Sleep – I try to take a nap in the afternoon and 6 hours in the night, but sleeping has always been an issue! 😦

    Yes, they do limit my cognitive capabilities – no kidding. Thanks Michelle! #HUGS

    Kitto

  6. I suffer from chronic insomnia. I don’t know if the solutions you have given can help me. Must try them out, especially 1 and 2. I have tried 3 and 4 in vain. It goes so I go to bed as a custom, not necessity. Then I just lie there as awake as day. Hating it. Frustrated. Angry. It is that bad.

    • I may have a special tip for you: try reading a romance** novel before going to bed. As a horror writer, that should put you right to sleep 😉

      (** Apologies to all Romance authors, but if there is no story line that contains blood, guts, or a terrifying element… we are bored!)

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