Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Writer's Guide to Insomnia

You are a writer. Your mind is constantly going.
Sooner or later insomnia is going to strike.
Today I'll share some insight on insomnia and sleep, along with ideas on how to make the most of your insomnia.

Let's talk sleep.

A typical adult needs about 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. You say you only need five hours of sleep a night, but researchers have found that this is true of only about 10% of the adult population.

The sleep cycle consists of four stages, going from light to deep sleep and finally REM (Rapid Eye Movement). The sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes. Adults spend nearly half of sleep time in stage 2, about 20% in REM and the other 30% is divided between the other three stages.

So what do you think? Are you sleep deprived?

Try this Sheep Dash test to find out. Remember, the sheep don't lie.

Besides the usual hints for a good night sleep, consider whether you are fighting your natural sleep rhythm. Try this test to see what your sleep cycle is. Knowing your sleep cycle helps you to understand your body's natural dip in energy and how to plan your day.

If you naturally have a 3 p.m. dip in energy it's not most optimal time to plan to write, but it is a good time to nap. And if your peak energy time is 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. don't waste those hours checking email or grocery shopping when you could be writing.

Curb Your Insomnia

Besides working with your natural circadian rhythm, try these tricks for a better night sleep.

1. If you nap during the day, keep it short. If you allow your naps to move past stages 1 and 2 of the sleep cycle the result is sleep inertia, where you feel worse (groggier) that before you began your nap. For more information on naps check out this great Boston Globe article.

2. Sleep Dex offers tips on sleep hygiene to help you get a better night sleep such as:

  • Maintain a sleep schedule and don't change it on the weekends.
  • Don't drink alcohol before sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine 14 hours before sleep.
  • Avoid nicotine in the evening.
  • "Wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day."
  • Keep the sleep area quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Avoid exercise right before bedtime.

Additionally SleepDex says:

"Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, go to another room and do something restful until you feel tired. Don’t read in bed. If you want to read, get out of bed and sit in a chair."

When Insomnia Does Strike

Be prepared.

Keep a list of simple things you can do when you can't sleep. This list should be posted close to your computer. Two a.m. is not the time to create the list. It should be prepared ahead of time.

Here's mine:

1. Write contest judge thank you notes.

2. Go to Google Image and and find cool pictures for my next blog posts.

3. Catch up on my world events on and US Magazine, and NewYork Times online.

4. Go to my library's web page and see the status of my account and put new fiction on hold.

5. Update my personal webpage, Facebook and Twitter pages.

6. Go to my freelance source sites and check out writing jobs.

This is an excellent time for surfing the web. But have destinations in mind so your time is productive. I suggest an Insomnia Folder on your desktop. Here are some of the best things to do on the web when you can't sleep. And it's all related in some way to writing.

1. Read editor and agent blogs to find out the latest in industry news. Here's a few of my favorites:

2. Check out movie previews and what's coming out on DVD:

And don't overlook for great trailers.
Here's some great romance that's coming to theaters or available on DVD:

Lost In Austen

500 Days of Summer

The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

The Ugly Truth

The Proposal

3. Checkout For $8.99 a month you can rent 1 DVD at a time (via mail) and all the instant movies you can download and watch on your computer. Even at two a.m. Recently, I watched, Emma, Penelope, and The Tudors, Season 3. Great research. Put your earplugs in and watch a flick until you get sleeeeeeepy.....

4. The middle of the night is a great time to find new reads along with industry insider news.

BookPage America's Book Review

Library Journal . com

Bookwire The Book Industry Resource

Book Spot

Publishers Weekly

5. Okay if you really want some just plain writerly fun check out these sites:


Romance Novel TV

Dear Author

Fresh Fiction

Writers Space

Borders: True Romance with Sue Grimshaw

That's it. Hope this helps.

Now go to sleep!


  1. Tried the sheep dash, but I'm just slow by nature. However, any test that tells me I need MORE coffee is appreiciated.

  2. *appreciated.

    I also need spell check, apparently.

  3. I know I'm sleep deprived but I thought I was above average and could beat the sheep test :) I was wrong.

    Sometimes I think not being quite so sharp is good when I'm doing a rough draft. It slows down my internal editor.

    The thing is, when I make an effort to get a good night's sleep, I often get more written more quickly. Those studies that say your reaction time is slowed and you keep trying the same things over and over when you're sleepy are true.

    But I really do have bouts of insomnia and all I can do is get up and do something until it passes.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post packed with good info. whether we're sleep-deprived or not.

    (Okay, I just had to re-type that word verification thingie--does that confirm I'm sleep deprived?)

  4. Gosh, Tina, I'm ready to dive back into bed from exhaustion just reading all you do during your sleepless nights!! YIKES ... Connealy has nothing on you, girl!

    I have never had too many problems with insomnia, but my husband and good friend have, so I know how awful it can be. But all the same, I think I may print this blog off ... just in case ... :)

    Fun blog!!


  5. Mornin' gang. I'm not close to a computer much this week. I miss Seekerville!!!!

  6. Miss you too, Mary. Hope you are enjoying the book tour.

    I actually did go back to sleep this morning. When you feel a cold coming on and if you can do it, sleep is the best thing.

    Today the diet starts so I have whole grain oat cereal with fresh strawberries and hot java. Sorry, no pastries until the ACFW conference.

  7. Only on Seekerville would your #1 fallback thing to do be "write thank you notes to judges". I guess I better start entering more contests to put that one on the top of my list. Once a year just isn't going to cut it.

    When I have insomnia, and finally accept that's what I'm suffering from, I pull out the laptop and write. A great way to boost word count for the week.

  8. I wish I could write when I have insomnia. It just does not work for me. I bow to your skill, Eileen.

    By the way, here is an insider secret for you on a Wed (when it is about to snow AGAIN in Denver)...

    RITA finalist, Judy Duarte, is coming to Seekerville April 29. She's bringing goodies too.

  9. Friday is the contest update, Eileen.

    Time to step out into shark infested waters.

  10. Since we overslept and no one got up until 10 minutes before the bus came and DD's gym clothes were still in soapy water in the washing machine that stopped overnight ...

    I needed this.

    I also need to rethink what I try to do late at night since believe it or not, I am a morning person.

    It's about good stewardship but it sounds so dutifully Mennonite-ish to bring it up like that ;-)

  11. I like sleep.

    Eight hours isn't enough for me.

  12. I would have written more but I felt a nap coming on. When sleep calls, I can't resist.

  13. Gina is our resident comic. She's like the town mascot. Sure she sleeps a lot but when she's awake...look out.

  14. I once interviewed for a job being Ronald McDonald. Hey, college students are desperate folks when they need to buy books for the next semester.

    I ended up turning down the job.

    Sadly, I was too much a coward to dress up as a clown and talk to strange kids.

    I really should have taken that job. Imagine the stories I'd have to tell.

  15. On a side note, I won't be around next week. Hubby's taking the church youth group on a mission trip to Kentucky.

    The chitlin and I are going with him. When they asked me what they were going to do during the week, I told them, "There's a playground where we're staying. Just run on out there and play, and don't worry about anyone stealing ya. We'll be in Kentucky. Ain't no one's gonna wanna steal you in Kentucky. They already have enough mouth's to fee."

    My mother didn't find that very funny,

    I really should have taken that Ronald McDonald job. Doing three months of Shakespeare to elementry school kids just doesn't rate at the same great-life-story level.

    You, Tina, would have made a great Ronald

  16. That should have been "mouths" not "mouth's." Uggh. I know better how to properly use plurals and possessives.

    Not that I'm possessed.

    I'm merely filled with the Holy Spirit. See how much I exude fruity kindness to my kids.

    I really oughta be listing my TBL entries on my imaginary spreadsheets.

  17. What a fun post and an excellent list of sources to check out. You left out catching up on any Seekerville posts you missed or rereading a past favorite.:)

    Gina, I think you missed your calling. You could have made Happy Meals for your kids every day.

  18. Tina, I should have added that I only ever get insomnia when a new scene or a new idea is tugging at me. One must obey, and write it down before it's lost, as so often happens if I let the opportunity slide. My memory is only so-so.

  19. Love the sleep dash test, Tina! But I've read many, many sleep articles that tell you NOT to do anything on the computer too close to bedtime--something about the light from the screen disrupting your natural rhythm. That's one reason I always log off at suppertime. I won't even watch TV past 9 p.m. but read for a half-hour or so before turning out the lights.

  20. Um, this makes me want to suffer from insomnia; it all sounds like too much fun.

  21. Those tests would have been fun...

    if I weren't so sleepy.

    My natural rythym seems to be in 3 hour increments. If I could alternate sleeping and writing in 3 hour increments 8 times a day, I think that would work.

    But of course I have a family and work in the real world, so that ain't happening.

  22. Tina, this is a great post.

    Lots of nights I'd rather write than sleep, but I pay for it the next day. Maybe it's more accurate to say my husband pays for it. :)

    Yikes. I was trigger happy on the sheep dash.

  23. What a cool post!
    I was armadillo ambling with those sheep. LOL Maybe because I went to bed at nine thirty last night, only to be woken at eleven and kept up until twelve thirty by my wheezy, boogery little guy. Poor thing. He exhausted me though. I go to bed around ten every night, and am usually tired enough to fall right asleep. This is with my nightly chocolate indulgence. LOL
    Very good post!
    I definitely need to figure out when my best writing time is.

  24. Sally, I have one word for you.


  25. Hi again, back at the computer for a while. Me and Insomnia...a legend that has no end.

    I'm up until 2 a.m. all the time...and It's not like I sleep until noon, people!!!!!!!!

    Anyway, I'm through tryiung to cure myself. I'm just ... well, I'd say7 I'm one of those people who only need five or six hours of sleep....EXCEPT I'M SO TIRED!!!!!!!!

  26. When I saw the title, I thought this must be written by Mary Connealy.

    I absolutely love Netflix. We have the one-at-a-time unlimited plan, and it causes me to watch entirely too many movies, but I can get new releases immediately. It's so cool! I love Netflix. Whoever put together their website and system is an absolute GENIUS. Boggles the mind. But I love him, that wonderful nerd, wherever he is. I can even search for an actor and get a list of all the movies he's ever played in. And you better believe Netflix has every one of them, almost guaranteed.

    And yes, you can watch a lot of the movies instantly on your computer, but I never do that.

  27. Why not Melly? When I need to be in a funny mood for a manuscript I instantly download a funny movie..etc, etc. great mood starters.

    DID ANYONE CHECK OUT THOSE NEW ROM COMS COMING OUT?? 500 Summers and the Ghost of Girlfriends Past look wonderful.

  28. Well, since it's 1:49 am, I'm not even going to attempt the little sheep thingy. I failed it miserably when I did it in the past.

    Tina, great info!!


  29. I can only speak from experience, Tina. If I don't give myself plenty of down time in the evenings--e.g., a couple of favorite TV shows and/or an escape into a novel (someone else's, not my WIP!)--I will have trouble either falling asleep or staying asleep. Somehow I have to trick my brain into shutting down or I'm utterly useless the next day.

  30. Thanks for the movie recommendations, Tina! They all looked good.