A Writer's Experiment with Sleep

David | Jul 21, 2012 min read

Last week I started a new experiment in writing, one that I hope will both boost productivity and creativity. It’s not your typical experiment, though. I’m not going to stand on my head while I write, or use prompt cards, or any other fancy tools I don’t already use. I’m going to change something much more fundamental about my writing habit. I’m changing my sleep. Okay, not so exciting, but I think it’s a promising approach. You see, I’m already fairly comfortable with my writing. It’s not perfect, but it’s workable and I think I’m at a point where the best thing I can do to improve is to simply keep writing. I’ve done the workshops, I graduated from Seton Hill’s awesome Writing Popular Fiction graduate program, and I have a trusted group of critique partners and beta readers. And I’m reading, something I always did but now I select what I read with more intent on developing a sense of the genres I work in. What’s left? Well, it’s just a matter of time. Something we’re all a little short on. I’m determined to reduce the number of hours I spend in bed—sleeping, that is. We all want more hours in the day, and I think it’s possible. We spend something like 8 hours in bed each night, 1/3 of our day, and I’m not so sure it’s necessary. A couple years ago, after having our second child, I embarked on a similar journey. Everyone knows that having a kid is typically an exercise in sleep deprivation, so I picked up this thing called a WakeMate to help me track how much sleep I was getting. I’m not going to review it, but suffice to say the thing wasn’t for me. In retrospect I should have realized I wouldn’t like it—I hate wearing watches or anything on my wrist for that matter. So I used it for a few months then gave up. Recently I came across a new device, the Zeo Sleep Manager Pro+, and so far it’s awesome. It’s a headband instead of a wristband, works with my iPhone, and gives pretty good stats on my sleep. I’m still trying to figure out how I can share graphs and such. When I do, I’ll start posting them here. Where am I going with this? I’ve always hated sleeping. Not the actual act, but having to lie in bed for 8 hours straight. Don’t get me wrong, I can and do sleep for that long, but somehow I always feel cheated out of time. And after using the Zeo for a few days I’m beginning to see a reason for this feeling (or maybe I’m rationalizing, but whatever). Zeo breaks your sleep down into 4 catagories: Wake, REM, Light, and Deep.What’s interesting is that Zeo discounts your time in Light Sleep. Wake, REM, and Deep all contribute to how well you slept on any given night, but time in Light Sleep seems to make little to no difference. Before using this thing, I would typically sleep six or seven hours a night. And even though I would get up pretty early to write, lately my writing’s been a struggle. This past week, I tried sleeping only five hours a night with two 20-minute power naps during the day. So far so good. My productivity was stellar (for me), with two days @ 1500 words, and the rest @ 1000. On Friday, I let myself get a ‘normal’ night’s sleep (for me, that’s six hours), and according to Zeo I slept better than most men my age can in eight hours, with serious amounts of time in both REM and Deep sleep. And I felt great in the morning. I’m not going to turn this into a sleep blog, but I will periodically post things about my progress. My next goal is to figure out how to share charts so you can actually see more details. Why am I sharing this? I think too often when we struggle in our endeavors, be it writing or anything else, we often overlook that possibility that changing something outside that endeavor may help things improve. We, like the universe, are a complex interaction of events and experiences. For me, writing is intimately connected to my dreaming and sleep, and so I’m chasing the theory that altering something in one will affect the other. My next experiment will deal with lucid dreaming. But it’ll have to wait for two things: I reach a comfortable compressed sleeping pattern, and the remee is released.

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