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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.

10 Reasons Sleep Improves Writing

sleep writers block canstockphoto5811852 (2)Writers need sleep. It is one of the five forms of Self-care that are essential to optimizing your brain. (Get support in developing Self-care habits)

By sleep, I don’t mean getting just enough to keep dragging your sorry self through the day. 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.

Only 20% of Americans get the sleep they need — being one of the 20% increases your ability to write the way you want to write. Research shows that getting enough good sleep will:

1. Break writer’s block and reduce writing resistance. Relaxation reverses the limbic system takeover that causes block and resistance, and sleep is the ultimate relaxation. Conversely, sleep deprivation will increase resistance and make writer’s block more likely.

2. Improve creativity. Peak creative experiences are much closer to the brain wave patterns of sleep than the brain waves that are typical when we’re awake. Sleep gives us the opportunity to “incubate” ideas because the unconscious mind is free to make new associations and connections. Lack of sleep impairs creative thinking and problem-solving.

3. 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, but sleep deprivation guarantees you will not create all you’re capable of.

4. Improve memory. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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. If you’re losing sleep to get to your workout, the stress of the sleep loss erases the benefits of exercising.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Fight the Saboteur. There is nothing like being sick, cranky, depressed and tired to give the Saboteur (see chapter 8 in AWB) 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.

10. 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. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need to live a long time to finish all the books I have in my head.

Sleep is an essential. Make sure get what you need.

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8 Comments on “10 Reasons Sleep Improves Writing”

  1. Ross Thompson June 30, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Purchased the book today. Great stuff. Bit upsetting though realizing I have been lead around by the nose, by the limbic system for so long. You would be aware that this stuff can be applied to other areas of life. There are a lot of people out there who avoid all sorts of situations. Public speaking, exams, some social situations, positions of responsibility, using technology etc etc.because of limbic response. I hope to be able to loosen myself up in other areas of my life also. Thanks for the book, it got to Australia.


    • rosannebane July 4, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks Ross. You’re absolutely right about how info about the limbic system and our fight-or-flight response give us insight to many areas of life. In the search for ways to loosen up in other areas of your life, Process will be an outstanding tool.
      It’s great to know my book has already gone to a place on my bucket list.


  2. Owen Banner June 26, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    Very true. I’ve read as well that a lack of sleep hardens the neural pathways in the brain, making them less conductive to transferring the electrical signals we need to make connections happen between the various portions of our brain.


    • rosannebane June 26, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

      Owen: I hadn’t heard that — thanks for telling me. Do you happen to know where you read that?


      • Owen Banner July 13, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

        No, unfortunately, I don’t remember…not enough sleep.



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