― Ernest Hemingway
If I had one superpower, I would want to be a person who didn’t physically require sleep. Never mind being able to read minds or fly; I would be content with having oodles of free time without ever feeling tired. However, I realize that this magical transformation is not going to happen anytime soon, so in the meantime, I am left with sleeping for eight hours each night, like a regular mortal.
Of all the things that have helped me improve my writing, the realization that sleep is important has helped me the most. When you’re running on four hours of sleep and coming back from an eight hour day at work, you will not feel like writing. And if you do write, you’ll be making mistakes of every kind– and you’ll be going veryyyyy slooooowly. You won’t be focused on writing; you’ll be focused on getting more sleep. And you’ll be failing at both.
In a 2000 study by the British Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, research showed that “people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent.” The results of this study demonstrate what most people already know to be true: sleep deprivation impairs your focus, which you need if you want to write. If you want to get serious about writing, then, you have to get serious about sleeping first.
Here’s my advice for getting better sleep and feeling more well-rested:
1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day– even on days off. It sounds monotonous, but it makes you feel more well-rested all the time. Getting up at 5am on a day off can feel a little ridiculous sometimes, but think of all the writing you can get done!
2. Be a morning person. A small study from Current Biology suggests that everyone has the capacity to be a morning person if they limit their unnatural light and maximize their natural light. Waking up early gives you a lot of time to write before things start getting hectic. And if you do become a morning person, you’ll be in great company– many amazing authors are morning people, too.
3. Make your room as dark as possible when you’re sleeping. Extra light comes from all kinds of things– your clock, the streetlights, night lights– and it makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep. If you really can’t control the light around you, invest in a sleeping mask.
4. Don’t use caffeine as a substitute for sleep. Caffeine never makes you more well-rested; it doesn’t take anything away from your sleep debt. If you have a choice between taking a twenty minute power nap or drinking a cup of coffee, choose the nap! Which leads me to my next point–
5. Choose sleep. Sometimes, life gets crazy, and you have to make tough either/or decisions. If I ever have to decide between sleep and something else, though, I always choose sleep. If I am choosing whether to write a six-page story and get two hours of sleep or get six hours of sleep and write two pages, for example, I’d go for the latter. (Then, I would make sure to finish the story the next day!) Approaching sleep with the same discipline as writing makes me more focused and it gives me time to mull over my ideas and think about my stories.
What works for you?
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