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.