There’s a long-believed myth that writing a book while balancing a busy schedule means something has got to give. And in most cases, the easiest activity to scratch off the to-do-list is sleep.
We’ve all read the advice that suggests getting up a few hours earlier or going to bed a few hours later so that you can squeeze in time to write your opus.
That’s fine if you’re already clocking in 9-hours of shut-eye; An hour shaved off either end still means you’re getting the World Health Organisation’s recommended 7-8 hours per night.
But who are we kidding? With our never-ending tasks list and 24/7 connectivity, most of us are getting by on fewer than six hours of slumber as it is.
For example, according to the last Bedtime Report complied by the British Sleep Council, nearly two-thirds of Britons typically hit the hay for as little as six to five hours per night.
Subtract even more sleep-time to write your first book and, sure, there’s probably no point in going to bed at all!
The relationship between writing and sleeping
But why does this matter? And what is the relationship between writing and sleeping?
Truth is, impaired sleep saps executive function – the cognitive processes responsible for creative thinking, working memory, and sharpened concentration.
Study after study has shown that those who sleep less than the required amount per night are less likely to recall recently learned information, solve creative problems, make fast and useful decisions, or be able to fully focus on tasks at hand – All fundamental factors in writing well.
Still, even if you do manage to sneak in an extra 30-60-minutes sleep-time, how do you make sure it’s restful shut-eye? When you’re busy as hell, quality sleep can be hard to come by.
Well, here are a few ways that make it happen:
Engaging in daily exercise
Even a 30-minute walk around the block each day is known to improve quality of sleep.
If you’re hitting the gym though, be careful not to do so too late in the evening as this may boost energy and activate the monkey mind that keeps you mulling over woolly problems into the wee hours.
Take naps to recharge
Living in Spain, I’m no stranger to the idea of “siestas,” the midday snooze Spaniards often take to restore energy.
Typically, people in the Western world fight their tiredness. But it’s better to give in and take a 20-minute to 2-hour nap, as it helps restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents.
Don’t believe me? Well, just ask NASA. A study they conducted on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved their performance by 34 per cent and alertness by 100 per cent.
Set a regular wakeup time
This is easy for any of us who have families and school runs to organise. But while that covers Monday to Friday, it’s important to keep to this wake-up schedule on weekends too. This reinforces the body’s circadian rhythm, which will then help you to sleep better at night.
Get a dose of daylight
Talking of circadian rhythms, keep them in check by ensuring you get a good dose of natural light first thing in the morning, while minimising your use of bright, artificial lights in the night-time (I know – hard to do when you’re trying to catch up on back episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale once everyone else is sleeping, but…)
Download blue-light-blocking apps
I’m not going to tell you to turn off all backlit screens an hour or two before bedtime because I’m realistic. But there are other ways to block the melatonin-suppressing blue light that emanates from the various digital devices you may be using up until you fall asleep.
Certainly, there are several blue-light-blocking apps that you can access for your phone, tablet, and laptop. And you can even purchase blue-light-blocking eyewear, specifically designed to keep you on track for a good night’s sleep.
If you’re writing a full-length book while living a fully-packed life the important thing to remember is that success is not just based on the hours you put in writing.
Everything you do around and leading up to those hours can determine whether your time spent creating will be productive or not.
So, bottom line – you want to write better? Sleep better first.