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Author Topic: Writers and Insomnia
Josh Leone
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This is just something I’m curious about and this, being a community of writers, seemed a good place to ask.

How many of you (aspiring writers, amateur, pro, or otherwise) have trouble maintaining a healthy sleep schedule? And if you do, and if it’s something you want to reveal, why do you think that is?

My answer to this question is that I do have this trouble. Stress is a factor (just look at my Rollercoaster posting ), but I also have a lot of trouble getting my mind to calm on a schedule. I’ve tried meditation (though I could probably be more serious about it than I am) and I’m very reluctant to try pills of any kind. Artistic types and drugs have a bad history together.

How about you?

Josh Leone

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I do my best work at the wee hours of the morning. But then I pay for it at work.

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I've been an insomniac since before I could remember. Apparently my parents would put me to bed when I was a baby and when they came back to check on me an hour later I'd be sitting in my crib quietly playing with a stuffed animal.

Once I learned to read, things got worse. Who can sleep when you need to find out whodunnit?!

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Member # 2192

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I sleep very well. But I am nocturnal by nature; left to my own devices I'd be going to bed at about dawn. So my sleep is often non-optimal - but the problem is the need to get out of bed and go to work, not falling asleep.
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Member # 2056

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I'll sleep when I'm dead.

But I never sleep well... I'm lucky to have 2 hours uninterrupted sleep any given night -- though I'm in bed for at least 5 or 6 hours.

Strangely, I have no trouble falling asleep. It is staying asleep that I have trouble with.

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I can fall asleep during a certain timeframe, and if I miss it, then I probably won't fall asleep. Otherwise, once woken, always awake, and since I have to wake up at 5am anyway to give my boy his medicine, that means I'm always up early.
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Member # 2088

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I used to be a night owl. There were many nights I'd stay up until 2 or 3 or sometimes 4 in the morning just so I wouldn't have to stop reading a book.

As for sleep, my kids are the best sleeping pill around. If they let me sleep, that is.

My husband, however, is very different. He works in a high-stress job, and as much as he loves being around the kids, they don't help him calm down. The only thing he's found to help him relax is regular, moderate exercise.

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I'm usually in bed by midnight, and asleep within half an hour. For the most part, I sleep for eight or nine hours uninterrupted, unless I set an alarm.
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If your problem is that you WANT to go to sleep, but can't shut your mind off, I recommend shifting your schedule where possible. If a warm shower makes you sleepy then instead of showering in the morning, shower at night before bed. If you always get sleepy after eating, then eat before going to bed (not great for the waistline but I’m sure you can compensate for that somewhere else in the day).

Be flexible. Learn your own sleep requirements. I see the AMA guidelines as just that: guidelines. If you stress about not getting enough sleep, on top of all your other stress then you’re just compounding the problem.

My trick: I refuse to go to bed until I feel sleepy. Sometimes that means going to bed at 11pm and most of the time it means going to bed between 2am and 3am (but I work 10-7 so I don’t have to get up until 8am). I make sure to “wind down” before I go to bed. I don’t write a super intense scene and then slip straight into bed. I’ll never fall asleep. I will check my regular forums, read some news sites, let the doggies outside one more time, wash my face and get the coffee ready for the morning, little monotonous chores that help me stop thinking about what I just wrote or read or played.

Don't bother with the pills. They stop working as your body adapts to them. Or you just need more and more which spirals into addiction. I would say that unless your lack of sleep is negatively impacting your health and/or life, then just learn to work with it and not stress about it.

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Usually I don't have a sleeping problem, and when I do it's generally related to stress. I can only think of one or two times when I've woken up in the middle of the night with a burning need to write.

The times that I do have trouble sleeping I find that crossword puzzles work wonders. They give my mind a workout and tire it out, but don't actually require a linked train of thought.

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I'm a complete insomniac, I'm not as bad as I was before I joined the Army (back then, I could have gone a few days without sleep), but I still don't sleep what most people would classify a "normal amount". Basically, it's because I have a lot of trouble being able to shut my mind off at the end of the day (the Army basically just helped me by making me so completely exhausted that, that whether or not my mind is shut off isn't even an issue)...
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Poster child for insomnia.


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I'm really odd. I'm a really bad insomniac unless I write. In some ways, writing is self-preservation.


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When I do get insomnia (which isn't that often), it's usually two-fold. After a few hours of trying, I'll finally nod off, just to end up dreaming that I can't get to sleep. It's rather confusing when I wake up. Was I, or wasn't I?
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I can't write late at night. My brain shuts down about 9:30-10PM and at that point I just need a good night sleep. I find that I'm at my best first thing in the morning. I get up, make a pot of coffee, then me and my computer huddle together and make magic. I find that my peak hours to write are from 5:30/6:00AM until noon (provided something unfortunate, like work, doesn't interfer.)It's when I'm mentally freshest.
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Stormlight Shadows
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My own body has a fun schedule that can be taken and shifted. I am a morning person, but right now my effence is on being a Night Owl. It sucks I sleep in when I don't want to and I can't go to bed before it is too late. It doesn't ring in y head of what is going on. Yes, I am in school right now and that didn't do anything until one week I stayed up till one doing homework for the first time in my life and my body switches over as it would with candy. I don't like it and I love to write any time, sometimes it is very random and noncoherent statements but somehow they have turned into a awesome story about a gang of Sticks, (Yes they use sticks to do drive by sticking instead of drive by shootings). I don't know what to do other than change my own schedule and others say be more active during the day.
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I find it hard to stay awake. Can't watch TV or go to the movies, can't watch DVDs.

I will wait all week for a program to come on TV, something I really want to see, the title comes up and the next thing I know I'm waking up the next morning in bed with my wife saying things like, 'You better get ready for work...'
'What time did I go to bed?' I'll say.
"I don't know, but you drank all the milk.'

I write best between 10am and 3pm. That's when I am at work so don't get a lot of writing done.

I heard that BOTH sleeping too much AND insomnia can be a sign of a depressive episode. Is that true?

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited April 13, 2005).]

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I am a nocturnal person as well. My normal bedtime is 2am give or take two hours. I have tried to change this for most of my life. My mother has always been an early riser and in her book if you are still asleep at 7am you must be ill, but somehow that never cured me. Most of my jobs have been early morning ones, and I tried over and over to change my body rhythms. The result is that every morning I would wake naseous and in physical pain, and usually my husband would have to literally pull me out of bed and walk me to the shower. This went on for years. I never got used to it. Now I am a stay at home mom so it isn't as much of an issue. My little one is also a night owl/late sleeper. I've decided that if I go back to work part-time, I may as well not fight it. I will look for a job from about 9pm to 2am.

I can never go to sleep when I want to. My mind races. Pills don't work. Warm milk/baths, relaxing, clearing my head, praying don't work. What usually does work is doing something like a tough crossword or logic problem when I start to get tired. It seems to block out most of the other thoughts that never seem to stop otherwise, but even that method doesn't always work. The flip side of the coin is that I am a heavy sleeper and can't wake easily, either. I sleep through every alarm on the market.

Oh well.

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I have a history of being a night owl. Until recently, I had an on and off history of staying up until about 2 am. I am a designer, and too feel my best work is done during the nighttime hours.

[This message has been edited by Wenderella (edited April 13, 2005).]

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Pyre Dynasty
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Personally I don't feel naturally tired till the sun comes up. If I do fall asleep before that then it is an act of self preservation.
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I write best after 11:00 at night. But I can't always let myself stay up late enough to get anything done, because I have 8:00 classes and stuff... life just won't let me do with it what I want.
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I can do a forced shutdown to reach what would correspond to second degree sleep. But I don't like doing that and I usually don't bother. I prefer to sleep from about 10 am till 6 in the afternoon, even though that isn't always feasible. It's troublesome to have to be awake when I'd rather be asleep and be asleep when I'd naturally incline to be awake, but I'm also pretty adaptable so it isn't a huge problem.
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Y'know I used to think of myself as a night owl and that I got my best work done after 11:00. Then I had a realization brought about by years of touring to schools, where I would spend nine months of the year having to be up and working by seven a.m. The summer hit, and I still got up--what's more, I was productive. I realized that the magic of eleven o'clock had been that no one else was up. I had no distractions.
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I've always been a night owl and somewhat of an insomniac. I find that my best writing is usually done between 12 and 2 a.m.

I've always had trouble sleeping because I've always got many thoughts floating through my head--mostly plot ideas. But I eventually fall asleep thinking about what to write next.

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It varies for me. This past year has been bad for insomnia with me just getting more and more tired but not being able to fall asleep until past 4 in the morning, often later.
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i'm an insomniac.

or at least used to be.

now that i'm working nights i can't keep a regular schedule for a totally different reason: can't wake up.

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Josh Leone
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Wow. I expected a few "yes" answers to the question, but I did not expect such an almost completely one-sided response. I wonder if anyone has ever done an actual research study of the link between creative personality types and erratic sleeping habits? Anyone know?

Josh Leone

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I have horribly erratic sleeping patterns, that are only kept regular by the fact that I find it extremely hard to think when I don't have a sufficient amount of sleep. Since this is my senior year I don't have any hard classes so I can get away without sleeping, but normally I force myself to get nine hours of sleep (and those usually come before 1 am). I do not like writing in the evening because I find it harder to concentrate and be creative, the best time for me is usually the afternoon (because I have school in the morning).

This is barely related, but somebody posted soemthing that made me think of it. I had a friend who would often stay up until three or four on the weekends, and he was totally coherent throughout the whole ordeal. However, the next morning when he woke up he would not be able to remember anything that happened after about 10pm. This went on for over a year. Some of the things he forgot happened were: getting back together with an ex-girlfriend, getting a speeding ticket, watching an entire season of a tv show (he couldn't even remember the characters), having a two hour conversation about starting a school, playing dungeons and dragons for four hours, and having me sleep at his house (he freaked out when he came into his guest room and saw me in there. Even after I told him what we had done the night before he couldn't remember anything). What was interesting about this was that the memory loss was so complete and that it always kicked in at about the same time, regardless of what time he had gotten up the day before. Unfortunately (for it was quite entertaining), he has started remembering things until he goes to sleep and the problem seems to have gone away.

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Usually I like between 7 and 8 hours to do and feel my best. I can hit the bed at 10:00 and be asleep within 3 minutes. But, if something wakes me up in the middle of the night, it might take an hour or two to get back to sleep. If I go to bed at 10:00 and wake up at midnight, I might be able to go back to sleep by 12:30. Or it might be 4 am. When I wake up, I get up. No alarm clock necesary. (I think it's part of the problem I have with going back to sleep if I'm woken in the middle of the night.)

Last Wednesday, some well meaning friends decided to gift us with a kitten. Unfortunately, the kitten was deaf and came from a house with 11 other cats into our house with no other animals. At 2am the first night, the kitten stood in the middle of the living room and started screaming. I went to the top of the stairs and called and called, but it just kept yowling, so I finally had to go down and get it. By the time I got back to sleep, it was 5 am.

The second night, kitty started at 1 am and I never got back to sleep.

Yesterday morning, we figured out that the cat is deaf and used to calling for the other cats to come play. Last night, kitty was back at someone else's house and I managed to sleep for close to 12 hours. Our friends are not real pleased and apparently I am a dirty dog for not wanting the cute little thing. But, a cat is a twenty year investment that I'd like to pick out for myself. Besides, after 20 years I think I'd be getting pretty sleepy.

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