Monday, June 4, 2012

The Power of Sleep

Sleep is a vital component of living; without adequate sleep, we remain tired and grumpy, perhaps even lethargic and/or depressed.

 It appears that adequate sleep can be different for different people, but I'll assume the tried-and-true 8 hours per night is adequate. The key word is "adequate". Being a person who suffers from sleep apnea and uses a cpap machine to get adequate sleep, I have experience with the problem of lack of adequate sleep. Before I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, perhaps 15 years ago, a 12-hour night of sleep left me exhausted and practically unable to function. I fell asleep at work more often than I want to admit. Fortunately, I had understanding co-workers and didn't get fired. I still need about 10 hours of sleep per night to feel alert. So, just to function in a busy and chaotic world, we need adequate sleep.

But adequate sleep has other benefits than just keeping our energy level high. For the creative writer, it may be an important component of our creativity. An article in the April 23, 2012 Time magazine "Shhh! Genius at Work" discusses the importance of sleep to creativity. Several scientific studies support the connection between sleep and creativity (and problem solving). The article mentions that Mary Shelley came up with the idea for her novel Frankenstein from a dream.

I think most writers can attest to the power of sleep for our writing. I see on blogs a lot of talk about sleep. Mostly complaints about not getting enough sleep, even complaints of coming up with ideas in sleep and waking up. But, really, this is a positive effect of sleeping well. Our minds are free from the restraints of our awake consciousness. This freedom of the mind to try out different solutions to problems while we're sleeping allows for more options: greater creativity. Many, many times I've awoken in the middle of the night with the solution to a problem in a story I was working on, mainly problems of plot. I've always valued ideas generated when I was asleep. I've written dialogue, even entire scenes in my mind while asleep, woke up, and wrote it all down at 2 a.m.

This tremendous benefit of sleeping may actually become a liability for many writers. And I think this is the primary problem for many of us. This waking up in the middle of the night causes us to be tired during the day when we have to work at our full time jobs. It helps make our workday unhappy, and this causes dilemmas for us. It probably kills more writing careers than anything. We just can't do both, write well and consistently when we're tired. Time management also becomes a big issue. But that's another topic. (This also goes for stay-at-home moms, who are also writers, with young children to care for.) The obstacles to writing are so great for both that many just give up.

But the full time writer, especially without children to care for, who can sleep as late as she wants, can reap tremendous rewards from waking up in the middle of the night to write down her inspirations. It's just too bad the vast majority of us can't live without a full time job. Most of us don't want to live in poverty, especially if we have families. Plus, in the USA, our jobs are our source for health insurance: no job, no insurance (not good). Unfortunately, we opt for our jobs, security, and suffer the unhappy consequences of hating our jobs.

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