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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

True Confession: Lately I’ve Been (Gasp)…


Playing and sleeping more. That’s right, I’ll admit it. Let my Puritan ancestors roll in their graves, let the Mrs. Kravitzes (from Bewitched) of the world gossip.

For almost a week, Minneapolis has been blessed with cooler temperatures and tolerable humidity levels. I’ve been taking full advantage of this by playing outside more and sleeping better (without the growl of the AC compressors and the constant drone of the fans). And believe or not, I’ve been writing more and with less resistance!

I’ve already given you my Top Ten Reasons to Play,  here are my Top Ten Reasons to Sleep.

And by sleep, I don’t mean getting just enough sleep to keep slogging through life; I mean making the necessary changes in your life to get enough good quality sleep – if you wake feeling rested and refreshed without an alarm clock, you’re getting enough. Don’t be one of three out of five Americans who don’t get the sleep they need.

Getting enough good sleep will allow you to:

1. Reduce resistance. And conversely, sleep deprivation will increase resistance. If my experience isn’t enough to convince you, observe your own sleep and writing patterns. And consider the evidence presented in the remaining nine reasons.

2. Improve creativity. In terms of brain waves, peak creative experiences are much closer to the brain wave patterns of sleep than being awake. Sleep gives us the opportunity to “incubate” ideas because the unconscious mind is free to make new associations and connections.

3. Improve memory. Studies show that interrupting sleep disturbs our ability to form new memories. During REM sleep our brains rapidly repeat neural patterns to cement memories in the hippocampus. We also restock the neurotransmitters we’ll need to remember what happens the next day.

4. Enhance focus and attention. No doubt you’ve noticed that your ability to concentrate rises and falls with the amount and quality of sleep you get.

5. LOSE WEIGHT! Sleep deprivation will make you gain fat and lose muscle. Adequate sleep will stop this trend and good sleep will reverse the effects on your metabolism. It’s my favorite new diet: just sleep an extra hour. If you’re losing sleep to get to your workout, the stress of the sleep loss wipes out any benefit from exercising.

6. Strengthen the immune system. Hey, Mom was right. Failing to get enough sleep depletes your immune system. It also raises IL-6 (interleukin-6); too much IL-6 causes tissue and bone damage.

7. Stop being a cranky-pants. Everyone knows we get irritable if we haven’t slept well. What you may not know is that sleep deprivation puts you at significantly greater risk of depression and anxiety disorders.  

8. Fight the Saboteur. There is nothing like being sick, cranky, depressed and tired to give the Saboteur power to inflate your resistance. When you’ve slept well, you’re much better prepared to shrug and say “Oh, there’s my Saboteur again” and keep doing what you intended without being sidetracked.

9. LIVE LONGER! Aside from the fact that sleep-deprived people are far more likely to be in a fatal car crash or other life-threatening accident, sleeping well will keep your metabolism, mood, weight-control hormones and immune system functioning at their peak and allow you to live longer and happier.

10. Achieve creative breakthroughs. Countless literary and other artistic works and scientific and technological breakthroughs have come from sleep or hypnagoic (sleeplike) states: Kubla Khan, Sophie’s Choice, the periodic table, the structure of the benzene ring, Einstein’s theory of relativity, the sewing machine, etc. Sleeping won’t guarantee you a place among the geniuses of the world or even guarantee your own modest breakthroughs, but not sleeping well almost certainly guarantees you won’t find all the insight you’re capable of.

Sleep is an essential part of self-care and self-care is an essential part of the writing life. Make sure you’re getting what you need.

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