At this point in the seemingly endless winter, filled with brutal temps and even more brutal current events, I am very envious of those creatures who can hibernate and skip it all. Imagine—months of sleep, curled up in a cozy ball well beneath the snow, unaware of the evil above.
Alas, lately I cannot seem to sleep more than two hours or three at a stretch, and I’m very aware of the evil. Doomscrolling on my phone during the night when I wake is my downfall. To distract myself, I’ve been doing the New York Times Spelling Bee at 3 AM when a new puzzle posts. I do the Wordle and the Mini-Crossword then, too. After an hour of simultaneously stimulating and soothing my brain, I usually wind up going back to bed.
“First sleep” goes back at least as far as a literary reference to it in The Odyssey. People would fall asleep once it got dark and wake up around midnight. And then—pretty much anything could happen during “the watching.” People hung out with their neighbors, had sex (maybe sex with their neighbors), did household chores, prayed, etc. The evolutionary theory behind this is that you’d have to wake up in your cave and add more wood to the fire so that you wouldn’t freeze to death, and guard against night-time predators. (The person below had better wake up quick.) After a few productive hours, it would be time to go back to bed again—”second sleep.” Or, as the scientists call this nighttime routine, bimodal, segmented, broken, or biphasic sleep. At this point I believe I’m in a tri or quadphasic pattern.
My sleep and writing schedules have gone haywire. When I worked in an elementary school, I had to sign in at 7:30 AM. Consequently, I was up around 4 and wrote before I left the house. We moved, and I became a high school library clerk. I ran the after-school program, and my hours were 10:30 to 5. Out of habit, I still woke up at the same ungodly hour to write, and I’d get to school with my head half in the clouds, feeling like I’d already put in a full workday.
I was pretty tired after both jobs, and hardly ever sat down at the computer to do anything serious in the evening. At most, I could edit and tweak, but rarely did I produce sparkly fresh words. I thought of myself as a “morning person,” feeling whatever creativity I possessed peaked early in the day.
Now that I’m retired and can spend all day writing, do I? The answer is absolutely not, LOL. I sometimes sleep past nine—or later—if I’ve been up several times in the middle of the night. Noon might find me still in pajamas. It takes me ages to be sufficiently alert to open up my manuscript. Things get written—or don’t—on and off all afternoon and into the early evening as I’m feeling more human.
This lackadaisical situation would horrify my parents, who never, ever let me sleep in. Why would they? They were early birds and I was raised to follow suit. My father worked in the post office and left the house by 4 AM. My Viennese mother was an exacting hausfrau. She sent our excitable fox terrier into my bedroom to lick me awake if she thought I was lingering too long in bed. She hung laundry outside at the crack of dawn, and I can remember the dastardly skritch of clothespins on the clothesline hooked up right outside my window. The vacuum whined before the sun rose. For that matter, in the winter I’d have to walk the mile to school in the dark, sometimes with a cello. Pity past me.
Now, I only get up early if I have to make a flight or when my grandkids visit. Five-year-old Josephine likes to help me with the Spelling Bee and knows how to operate the Keurig. She picks my mug and stirs the sugar in. I ease very slowly into the day with my cup of coffee, and wonder what ever happened to the early bird who got the worm.
Who wants to eat worms anyway?
Everyone from Stephen King to Anne Lamott suggests a writer should write every day around the same time, training themselves to “wake up.” I’m afraid I am lying down on the job.
Sleep tips from the Mayo Clinic are below. I think they could almost double as writing advice!
Stick to a sleep schedule. Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is at least seven hours
Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. In particular, avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime.
Create a restful environment. Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Exposure to light might make it more challenging to fall asleep.
Limit daytime naps. Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep.
Include physical activity in your daily routine. Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. Avoid being active too close to bedtime, however.
Manage worries. Try to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime. Jot down what’s on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow. (Ed. Note: ha ha ha ha)
Are you a good sleeper? When do you do your best work?
Maggie Robinson is the author of the Lady Adelaide Mysteries and four historical romance series. To learn more, please visit her website.
I am mostly a good sleeper but when I wake up early like today at 4 is often my best time to work. Perhaps I like to work in the dark? Write on.
I’ll try! I feel a little more energy now that it gets lighter in the morning.
Ah, sleep. Would that we could purchase it like milk or bread, but we can’t. If I could record my dreams I might be the next Cecil B. DeMille, or at the very least understand why some seem to be stuck on repeat. The only bastion remaining between me and this disturbing excuse for a world is my sense of humor and that’s on the verge of needing some massive repairs.
I think your humor is in remarkably good working order. Paging Dr. Freud for more dream interpretations–I venture to say most of us would make excellent case studies now.
If this posts as anon. (iPad quirk), its from Kathy/Kaitlyn: Your sleep schedule sounds a lot like mine. I sleep a couple of hours, get up, go downstairs, put away the dishes in the drying rack, feed the cat, maybe read a little, and snooze on the sofa for an hour or two and then go back to bed. I almost always have a nap during the day but that doesn’t seem to affect how much or how well I sleep at night. I’m all for whatever pattern works as long as it adds up to 8+ hours. As for writing? I used to write in the morning (8-11 or so) and revise in the afternoon. I haven’t written anything new in months but I’m okay with that. Semi-retirement and editing backlist for reissue seems to suit me very well and works well with my crazy sleep patterns.
Maybe we should meet up in the middle of the night! What’s open in Farmington? LOL.
I think your sleep schedule is what a lot of us fall into as we age. I find three hours is about my max, but I never get up to do more than use the bathroom, and I usually go back to sleep fairly quickly unless like yesterday a dental appt. or something looms in the daytime. I like the Mayo suggestions and follow them pretty much, except I love my daytime naps. It is a know fact of life to all my friends that you do not call me between two and four in the afternoon. Strangely though I’ve gone from a lifetime of writing in the morning to writing in the late afternoon and often after supper. I’m just going with the flow.
Going with the flow…words to live by!
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There was an amazing piece on NPR this morning on Freud and sleep and his early work in the area (that no one “bought” – he got major criticism for it – and it was dismissed for many many years. Now scientists are able to do rather intense research into dreams/sleep and how important it is and how hard it is these days with screens and all sorts of tech – and how humanity could be changing faster than we think because sleep patterns are all over the place. Really enjoyed this read Maggie!