This is not the blog I was preparing for today. I was going to bring my vulnerability and talk to some of those doubts we writers can wrestle. Instead, as I was reflecting on the content of my post, the wise words of a friend came to me: “Get some sleep before you make a decision on that.”
(You would be surprised how closely related my decision and the content of my blog were.)
It occurred to me that my greatest challenge recently has not been self-doubt, but sleep deprivation. Given my constant nemesis doesn’t appear to be going away, I thought I’d share some advice frequently dispensed by my also wise husband. Maybe we can all learn a thing or two about sleep hygiene while we’re at it. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be the only writer out there in need of some reminders!
|Tired Woman Computer_Photo Credit: Sutprattana|
So here are some of the top hygiene tips frequently given:
1) Turn off devices at least 1-2 hrs before bedtime
This is probably my greatest challenge as I have quite limited writing and computing time available at home. By the time the humans have been fed, homework down and small human put into bed, the night is gone. (The small canine is also somewhat time consuming, but rather less demanding most times!) Much of my writing happens at night. It’s also when my brain is most active. Sometimes the ol’ afternoon nap has been my saviour, but during the working week, this isn’t an option. Devices keep our brains active, so device-free time is pretty important for good sleep. (Another recommendation for improving sleep is trying to make a regular bedtime. This helps with the device off factor, as if you know when you're aiming to sleep, you have an actual time to aim for.)
2) Avoid energy drinks, high caffeine or high sugar drinks after mid-afternoon
My husband and I have a little night routine where we stop for 15 minutes to reconnect over a caffeine-free drink—usually herbal tea. Not only is this relationally beneficial, it’s also a great way to calm the mind in preparation for sleep. Unfortunately, often my husband will go onto bed while I remain up doing things, but when I can go to bed, this is definitely helpful. (It’s also great when purchasing gifts, as there are so many wonderful tea blends out there, and you get to share the present night after night, for weeks.)
3) Avoid having devices in your room
On this I am a TOTAL hypocrite! My phone is my alarm. To be fair, I do activate quiet mode and usually put the phone face down, so my sleep isn’t interrupted by texts or calls. On the other hand, I’m notorious for browsing online after bedtime, especially if I’m researching something for work or my writing. My peak brain time is 10pm to 2am, so often if I’m trying to figure something out this is when my brain’s working overtime on it.
In the pre-device days, when I was a university student, I used to manage this by working until around 1 or 2am, and if I could sleep in past 8am I was fine. (Not the best morning person!) In the workforce this is unsustainable, so it’s probably worth still having that hour or so of device-free time, just later. If I can print something out and read on paper, that is another way to avoid devices, but still glean the facts while my thoughts are clicking.
4) If you can’t fall asleep initially (after 20-40 minutes) get up and sit in a quiet part of the house with no devices and low/no light, then try again
Sometimes this works for me, sometimes it doesn’t, but I figure it’s better to get up than lie on a bed with growing frustration over your lack of sleep. Unfortunately I’m one of those gifted souls who can do the get up, go back to bed, can’t sleep, get up etc routine for several days … well, nights. (It’s really annoying!)
5) Try relaxation breathing techniques
Elaine Fraser gave this tip at one of the Omega Conferences. If you’re struggling to sleep, this can really help bring down anxiety levels and there’s probably a heap of resources out there on the most effective ways to use breathing to our benefit. (Maybe I should look them up. LOL)
6) Sleep with a pen and notepad beside your bed
Whether you’re worrying about something or struck with a brilliant writing idea, keeping a pen and paper beside your bed means you can write it down. This helps get it out of your mind and aid in reducing anxiety. I’ve found this technique particularly useful over the years.
7) When using devices after sundown (or within those hours leading up to sleep) activate the night-shield function or equivalent to reduce stimulating blue light exposure. (This is that orange-yellow tint you can activate on your screen.) Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, which can really mess with our circadian rhythm.
8) Stretch before bed
This one is my own advice. Because physical discomfort is a significant factor in my inability to sleep, I’ve found stretching with a physio roller or such a key way to relieve discomfort and enable a longer opportunity to get to sleep before the unsettling tossing and turning starts. (And if the stretching doesn't work, another thing I've found helpful is a hot shower just before sleeping.)If you want to know more, there are heaps of resources out there on sleep hygiene and quality, including managing devices and sleep (they really are having a significant impact on our quality of sleep), but these suggestions are a good place to start. You might want to try essential oils or other ways to wind down. This is just a starting point. I truly believe the world would be a happier place if we all just got a few more hours sleep each week. I think our writing and family would also benefit. Let me know if you have any other great tips to add to the list!
Adele Jones is an award-winning Queensland author. She writes young adult and historical novels, poems, inspirational non-fiction and fictional short works, along with juggling family responsibilities and a ‘real job’ in the field of science. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks to present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com or firstname.lastname@example.org