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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.

NaNo or Not, You Need Your Sleep!

Whether you’ve just signed yourself up to write a novel in a month or you’re facing other writing challenges as we move into the winter holidays, you may be tempted to skimp on sleep so you can keep up with a schedule that always seems to get frenzied this time of year. Don’t!

The sleep-deprived brain is incapable of creativity. Sleep deprivation interferes with both the convergent and divergent thinking required for creative thinking. It also impairs nearly every other cognitive function: memory, mood, alertness, decision-making, learning, logical reasoning, and motivation.

If that’s not enough to scare you into turning out the lights in time to get the sleep you need, consider this nightmare scenario: consistently denying your body sleep makes you more likely to get sick (because your immune system is compromised) and causes you to lose muscle and gain fat!

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what the brain does when we sleep or why we need sleep. But it is clear that sleep allows the brain solidify what it learned during the day and to make new creative associations and connections. Dreaming, napping or being in a hypnagoic (sleeplike) state is credited as the source of many creative and scientific breakthroughs: Kubla Khan, Sophie’s Choice, Frankenstein, the periodic table, the structure of the benzene ring, Einstein’s theory of relativity and the sewing machine, to name a few.

Sleep is an essential component in the self-care that supports a writer. Be sure you practice good sleep hygiene:

  • go to bed at the same time and get the same amount of sleep every night
  • eliminate light and noise distractions in your bedroom
  • watch what you eat and drink before bed
  • avoid computer monitors and TVs before sleep (the light these devices emit suppresses the natural production of melatonin and disrupts your circadian rhythms).

I’m fascinated by how insomnia parallels writer’s block. In both you want to change your state of consciousness and can’t because you keep thinking intrusive thoughts. Next time, I’ll review how the solutions for insomnia can be adapted to curing writer’s block.

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