At this time of year, many countries change their national time-keeping in the middle of the night. Last night in the UK, where I live, for example, we moved from British Summer Time to Greenwich Meantime. As welcome the bonus of an extra hour's sleep as a annual treat, now is a good time to reflect on the benefits of proper rest for the creative process that fuels all authors, whether writers of fiction or non-fiction, self-published or trade-published. In a special seasonal post today, English thriller writer A A Abbott, who always seems full of energy, makes the case for the importance of restorative sleep.
Is sleep for wimps?
Surely time spent sleeping is time wasted. We’re forgoing a chance to socialise, write another two thousand words and earn more money. Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, famously managed on four or five hours a night, without power naps, even, so why can’t everyone? Imagine how productive we’d be with all that extra time.
While it’s a seductive argument, follow its siren call at your peril. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. If you’re built like the blessed Margaret and can stay awake for twenty hours a day without feeling tired, that’s marvellous. If you’re not, read on.
Sleep – A Miracle Pill
If the advantages of sleep could be packaged and sold, you’d pay a fortune for it.
- It restores the body, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had a paper cut and discovered it’s healed overnight.
- Your brain cells benefit too; fatigue saps your energy and creativity.
- REM sleep doesn’t just bring dreams to entertain you (and who knows, maybe the plot of your next novel), it enhances your cognition when you’re awake.
- Best of all, it’s free.
How to Get More Sleep
So, if you want to awake relaxed and refreshed, bursting with new ideas, all your problems solved and your memory sharp as a pin, how can you get enough Zs? At the risk of stating the obvious, here are my six top tips:
Don’t feel guilty. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is pernicious, especially if you live in a manic, experience-filled city like New York or London, have small children, or a looming deadline. Yet you’ll give much more to yourself and others if you take time to replenish your energy. Self-care isn’t selfish.
- Want to get to sleep quickly? Wind down before bedtime. Leave the smartphone, tablet, PC, TV alone for the last hour before turning in. A dedicated ereader’s different: it’s been designed to mimic a book, and its electromagnetic waves don’t interfere with Circadian rhythms the way other devices do. (Thank you to confidence coach Ann Hobbs, who told me about this. It certainly worked for me).
- Avoid caffeine after midday. Not everyone’s sensitive to it, but by cutting it out in the afternoon, you’ll find out if you are.
- Have a warm bath or a hot drink (without caffeine!) in that hour before lights out when you’re not tapping away at a keyboard.
- De-stress. Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean twenty minutes meditating every day. Mindfulness teacher Jackie Hawken, a Buddhist, taught me a one-minute deep breathing technique. It works before bedtime, and also on waking during the night. Others swear by colouring in, so why not try it? It costs very little to get kitted out with a picture book and a rainbow of pencils.
- Plan ahead to give yourself enough time. If you really need eight hours, put it in your diary so you won’t over-commit yourself. Of course, stuff happens, but if you stick to eight hours more often than not, you’ll stay resilient and cope with a broken night or two.
Now, to make sure I don’t end up writing late into the night, I’m using my laptop on a train – travelling from home on Sunday afternoon so I’ll start work in London bright and early on Monday morning. Trouble is, I’ve been thinking about sleep so much, I can’t stop drifting off. Oops, was that my station back there?
OVER TO YOU Have you more sleep tips to share? Has your creative life been transformed by changing your sleeping habits? Join the conversation via the comments box!#Authors - self-care isn't selfish. So get more #sleep! @AAAbbottStories tells us why and how. Click To Tweet
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