Tell a child to head to bed and there will be angry tears and stomping. Tell an adult to get some sleep and there will be tears of gratitude and joy - unless the "napper" is a blogger.
In that case, there is crying, wailing, and a gnashing of teeth. It puts the tantrums of a two-year-old to shame. Who can sleep at a time like this? There are social media updates to schedule, articles to write, posts to edit, videos to upload, and a billion emails to deal with.
Sleep is for sissies.
The next time you experience writer's block or are tempted to make up for a less than stellar writing day by writing half the night away, don't begin your usual routine of trying to stay awake with endless trips to the fridge, messing with the cat's paw, or starting up another game of solitaire.
Instead, research suggests you should get more sleep.
Burning the Midnight Oil?
For many, night holds uninterrupted writing bliss.
There are no demands from a stressful job, or the kids, an attention-deprived significant other, or the dog begging for yet another walk. Even email falls blessedly silent. The neighbors are no longer arguing, the semi-trucks have stopped their rumbling voyage past your house, and the day's chores are long since completed. Or not.
The quiet is broken only by the clicking of your hands scratching across the keys, the tick of a clock, and the occasional creak of your desk chair as you lean back for a late-night stretch. Plenty of creative types believes that night is when they come up with their best stories, topics, or plot. Robert Frost and Proust are remembered for their great works - completed at night. Stephanie Meyers of Twilight fame wrote at night. So, too, did novelist and short-story writer Franz Kafka.
Kafka wrote to Felice Bauer:
"Writing is a deeper sleep than death. Just as one wouldn't pull a corpse from its grave, I can't be dragged from my desk at night."
Does darkness breed creativity? It's such an alluring time to write, it's no wonder so many bloggers yearn for it and even skip sleep for it. But sleep has more to do with your creativity than you'd think.
If you are frequently trading in sleep for writing time, you might want to rethink it.
What if you could harness inspiration from a different source? What if your best work, new ideas, or insightful tweaks happened to you after sleeping?
Sleep for New Ideas
Famous writers of the past and present have used their dreams as fodder for their daily work. Your blog is no different.
Frankenstein, by 18-year-old Mary Shelley and published when she was 20, was written in a burst of inspiration after a dream she had during a stay at Lord Byron's villa. Every evening, Mary Shelley, her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and poet Lord Byron were on vacation at Lake Geneva.
It was during the "year without a summer" after the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1816. The blast of ash resulted in cooler temperatures and plenty of cold rain. Is it any wonder that the group began to read aloud ghost stories to pass the time? Lord Byron urged the group of writers to craft a ghost story of their own. Each morning, the guests were asked if they had something to share. Each morning, Mary Shelley had nothing to contribute. Until one evening...
"Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. 'I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.' On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, It was on a dreary night of November, making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream." You are likely familiar with the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The plot of that classic was also the result of a dream.
Stevenson said, "For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort, and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers."
Dreaming was an important part of the creative process for Stevenson. When he was young, he dreamed in stories, learned how to manipulate the plot, and revisit it on the next night. As he grew older, he learned to dream new plots and remember the details so he could use it for his books. He felt that dreams happened in "that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long." It's an interesting way to look at it. Your brain is constantly working. Why not use that to your advantage?
Stephen King dozed on a flight to London. He dreamed about a woman who killed her favorite writer and then bound a book with his skin. While that isn't quite the gruesome story you will read today, it does still resemble the story it turned into, a haunting little tale of Misery in 1987.
E.B. White dreamed up the character for his book Stuart Little. Fans wanted to know where his ideas came from. He replied, “I went to bed one night in a railway sleeping car, and during the night I dreamed about a tiny boy who acted rather like a mouse. That's how the story of Stuart Little got started.”
You might be thinking, "Hooray for those celebrity authors. That's great for them, but what about me? There's only one of me and I have so much work to get done.”
Keep Calm and Take a Nap
Comedian Jim Gaffigan isn't entirely wrong. A thirty-minute catnap can do wonders for your creativity. Some of the great minds in history have taken naps - and far more than writers have used them as a tool to actual be more productive. Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, John D. Rockefeller, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Edison took naps (whether Edison liked to admit it or not).
Sleeping works to generate new ideas. If you work from home or have a private office, if you are the boss or have an understanding employer (they are out there), try taking a nap in the afternoon at roughly the same time each day - even if you must hide in your car to do it.
Take the case of strategic naps, as illustrated in the Science of Sleep study by Dr. Mark Rosekind. Commercial airline pilots were asked to take a planned nap so they could be tested on their performance and alertness. It took the pilots roughly six minutes to fall asleep and they napped for twenty-six minutes.
That short twenty-six-minute nap managed to increase their objective performance 34% and increase their physiological alertness by 54% - and the effect lasted three to four hours. Not even caffeinated coffee will give you that kind of result.
Another study revealed that a college student who consistently scored A's would experience a dramatic drop in grades with less than seven hours of sleep each night during the week with only forty minutes more sleep on the weekend. How dramatic? His or her scores would match the members of the class, with consistent sleep, who scored in the bottom 9%.
The lack of sleep adds up, impacting grades each week. What is it doing to your productivity? Chances are it is at an all-time low if you are skipping out on sleep - and you probably don't even realize it.
Frequent late-night writing sessions, without any daytime naps, aren’t going to have your desired effect.
What could sleep do for your writing? Chances are, it would do plenty. You might get more writing done, increase the number of topics you can write about, and stop getting distracted by every little thing.
What if instead of fighting sleep, instead of downing endless cups of coffee, instead of chomping on chocolate or chips, what if you sought to get more sleep each night? What if you wrote hard for a couple of hours, instead of half the night, and then took a nap in the afternoon the next day?
To Sleep, Be True
If you are having trouble with writer's block or have too many projects to finish and feel as though there isn't enough time, maybe an afternoon catnap isn't a cop out after all.
**"It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it," stated John Steinbeck.
Leave the hard stuff to your brain to figure out, without being directly involved. Learn how to let go, ditch the embarrassment over napping, go to bed at a decent time, and get more done than you ever thought possible.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nap to take.