Sleep. We all need it. But do we get enough of it? And if we don’t … could it be affecting your writing business? How creative do you feel after a bad night’s sleep?

I recently read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep and can thoroughly recommend it. It’s a fascinating read (and one of those books that is so well written it’s an easy read even though the subject matter gets quite complicated at times).

How many times have we found ourselves stuck, creatively? Perhaps we can’t think of the perfect way to resolve a story or novel plot point. Or that last section of an article that just doesn’t seem to flow right. And yet, after a good night’s sleep we wake up with our answer.

There’s a reason for that, and Walker’s book explains exactly what is happening within our brains while we sleep. 

But for that to happen we need to be getting enough of the right sleep and, ideally, our brains require a regular routine of sleep. That means settling down at roughly the same time every night, and waking up the same time every morning. 

It’s commonly said that we need 8 hours sleep a night. Walker explains that 8 hours is an average. Some only need 7, others as much as 9. But do you know how much you need?

As writers, we’re often told that if we have a big project on the go, such as a novel, then we should get up early before the rest of the house does, or work late into the evening when everyone else is asleep. That’s fine, but only if it means you still manage to get your required sleep quota EVERY night. By all means get up at 5am to start writing, but make the effort to go to sleep at 9pm … otherwise you won’t get your 8 hours (or however long you need).

For the past two weeks I’ve been experimenting. I’ve made a conscious effort to undertake all the classic steps we’re advised to take to ensure a good night’s sleep:

  • No computer work after 9pm. Screens emit a blue light that stimulates the brain. Some devices, like my tablet and smartphone, try to manage this by turning the screens orangier. Even so, they get discarded before 10pm.
    • I rarely watch television after 10.30pm.
    • Instead, I journal. I sit in bed scribbling thoughts, by hand, with a pen, in a notebook.
    • I finish by reading, before settling down at 11pm.

Although I set my alarm for 7am, I’ve never needed it. I’ve found I wake naturally just after 6.30am, suggesting that my natural sleep requirement is about 7 ½ hours. (And sometimes I’ve not managed to settle down until 11.30pm, but found I’ve woken naturally at 7am.)

Two weeks in and I’m really noticing the difference. My brain feels clearer, more alert, and thinking is easier. Last Friday, I drafted not one, but two 1700-word articles, wrote two blog posts and edited a chapter of my novel. Wow! That felt an amazingly productive day.

It is still early days with this experiment. But I’m finding it an interesting exercise. After all, my writing business is reliant upon a clear-thinking, alert brain.

So are you getting enough sleep? Don’t think that you can ‘catch up’ at the weekend. That’s not how sleep works. Walker explains there are certain processes the brain needs to carry out every night, and if it doesn’t then the opportunity has been lost.

How important is sleep to you? It’s probably more important than you think it is.

Good luck. Oh, and sweet dreams 😁.


4 thoughts on “Zzzzzzzzz

  • March 18, 2019 at 4:23 PM

    Good post, Simon. Since I have retired I have been doing much the same thing. I seem to need 8 1/2 hours of sleep.

    • March 19, 2019 at 10:41 AM

      Once you know how much you need, I think it makes it much easier to make yourself settle down in time to ensure that’s what you get.

  • March 18, 2019 at 5:42 PM

    I have spells of poor sleep and do find it difficult the next day, but when I’m undisturbed and get 7-8 hours I work much better the next day.

    Meanwhile I know my characters and plot are chugging away in the background.

    • March 19, 2019 at 10:43 AM

      Yes, once you know your plots and characters are still working, when you’re sleeping, that doesn’t feel quite as bad, does it?


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