Rest in Pieces

cat small bedThe question most frequently asked of writers is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

My most frequent answer: I get them in bed.

Last thing before nighty-night, I try to read over any new material I’ve worked on that day. If I don’t have new words, then I read the last scene in the work I’m trying to add to. Then up to bed, and into my read-for-pleasure book, I do go.

cat fat on bedIf I’m setting an alarm, I set it for an hour before I should get out of bed. When it goes off, I take my thyroid meds (best on an empty stomach), then roll over and drift. In that drifting, “I can drowse if I want to,” place, I will often get good ideas. I rarely get whole books from that hour, but I’ll get how to open a scene, how to close a scene, what a scene needs to accomplish.

cat reading bedAs I traveled around Scotland–Scotland, my bestest place ever!–the ideas dried up. Weeks went by, and nothing came to me. In Scotland?!

I’ve diagnosed the drought as having three sources, at least. First, I had very little solitude. At the Gaelic college, on the ferries, in the accommodations, I was seldom alone. (I was in great company, though, and that’s worth a lot.) Second, I was worried, much of the time, about what was happening at home–with family, with the law office.

cat dog bedThird, I wasn’t getting adequate sleep. Whether because of different periods of daylight, strange beds, lack of physical routine (no tread desk), no animals around me, lack of writing time, lack of solitude and unstructured time, anxiety, menopause, or anxiety, I simply couldn’t rest. My drifting hour eluded me, and the well went dry.

I’m home now, and the drifting hour came through with this theme for today’s blog. I knew good sleep was essential for a healthy weight, adequate energy, proper memory function, management of anxiety, reduction of systemic inflammation, rational decision-making, and support of the immune system, but I hadn’t pinpointed how much it has to do with my writing process.

cat feetWell, duh. I had to learn this lesson in law school thirty years ago, where my mantra became, “You can manage four years of working full time and going to law school five nights a week IF you get adequate rest.”

Women are affected by a lack of sleep more than men are, and women need more sleep than men. For the ladies, sleep deprivation results in higher risks for diabetes, heart disease, aggressive feelings, and depression. (For the men, it seems to result in a lack of ability tell if a lady is interested or not.)

cat cuddly sleepSo I learned more about what I need to write on the trip where I wrote almost nothing, and I learned once again, you can manage a lot of you’ll guard your rest.

Sleep deprivation is seriously bad for us. How do you know you’re not getting enough rest, and what do you do about it?

To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Neil Oliver’s History of Scotland–you can watch it in bed.


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19 comments on “Rest in Pieces

  1. I am Crabby when I am sleep deprived. Crabby, with a capital ‘C’! I am short of temper and feel crummy (with a small ‘c’)and not able to focus. It really depends on why I am sleep deprived on how I handle it. Most often, I do the same thing I did with my kids when they were very young and not sleeping….I figure out why. Often, I’ve had too much caffeine or had my daily allotted amount of caffeine later in the day or have had too much of it. Sometimes, I am stressed and once the stress is lessened, I am back to normal.

    Spring is here in the Midwest and I am itching to get to work in my garden. But I know I have to pace myself. If I indulge myself with too much physical work (and twist myself too oddly), I will pay for it at night….it’s a sleepless night waiting to happen. If I garden smartly, I can sleep a good sleep and that’s good!

    • I simply can’t do caffeine, to speak of, and as little energy as I have, that’s seems like a great injustice. Caffeine seems to be able to keep me up (for several nights), without giving me any more oomph during the day. My primary gripe is that tea with caffeine in it TASTES better.

      Ah, well. Life is not fair.

      As for gardening, it’s good medicine. I read a study somewhere about bacteria in the soil being antidepressant. If it sounds whacked, it’s probably true.

  2. I find that if I don’t get enough sleep the creative part of me gets squashed. I might have ideas, but no energy to pursue them to completion. If I don’t get my unstructured thought-time, I get frustrated because I can’t think creatively at all. I manage it by going to bed on time…most days anyway…and when I can’t have unstructured time, I forgive myself the time and allow that I will make up for it later. That helps keep the anxiety down. Although I have yet to figure out how to deal with the unwanted menopause anxiety! :- )

    • Nobody warned me about that anxiety, and it’s just not like me to get on a hamster wheel. The past five years have been ones of incessant squeaking. Gives me a lot more sympathy for people with OCD, though.

      I know I’m fretting beyond what’s productive, I see it happening, I realize it’s pointless, and yet…. two hours later, I’m still at it. Must be a reason why this behavior is adaptive at this time of life, but that reason eludes me.

  3. I just want to welcome you home. I agree that traveling is great but so is coming home. I am sure you will get back into your routines soon.
    Regarding sleep deprivation– I think I was sleep deprived most of my teaching career. I tried coping by going to bed earlier and earlier and sometimes sleeping through the weekend. I know I am better to myself and others when I have had enough sleep.

    • I don’t see how any teacher who’s doing what’s required of her (or him), can get adequate sleep. The work day starts earlier than the typical work day, and the “out of office” tasks are endless and growing, as is the gravitational pull of all the drama that goes with students and educational institutions. I’m glad you’re getting your time now, (and I did pick up those watches in Scotland).

    • Plenty of people do, and caffeine has been shown to make us sharper, give us more physical endurance, and quicker recall.

      Unfortunately, it’s a central nervous system stimulant that remains present at detectable levels in the blood stream for nearly two weeks, though its half life is only four hours. I simply can’t handle it…. though I CAN handle chocolate.

  4. Oh, the eye twitch! The eye twitch (my eyelid, not my eyeball) is in full force right now. It happens at the end of almost every school year. Usually, I’m not sleeping well because of all the crap that suddenly needs to be done.

    We have just over 20 days of school left. We still have a week of state testing to do. I have IEPs to finalize (so that I can re-do them in August). I have to find enough lessons to fill the rest of the year (which is really strange because I’m usually trying to cram one more thing in). There are final exams to write. There are seniors who are going to pass my required math class by the grace of God and my deep, deep, deep buried kindness. I have to ready the room for the summer and hope that all my stuff makes it back after they dump it all in the hallway while they wax the floor.

    Add the personal drama of planning a trip to California to visit a brother and sister-in-law who are in the midst of the seven year itch in their marriage. And the eye twitch is in full force.

    *Heavy Sigh* This too shall pass.

    • For me, the eye twitch can signal a lack of nutrients, potassium and magnesium, and I’m wicked prone to anemia.

      For you, yep, I think that litany would cause the eyes to twitch, if not roll back in you head altogether.

      I’ve wondered about year round school from this perspective: We know it helps underprivileged kids lose less ground, know it means fewer children repeat a grade. We also know that privileged kids LOSE ground (relatively) due to year round school, because they have to pass up the smorgasbord of enriching activities they’re exposed to during those long summers.

      But how does it impact the overworked, under-supported, emotionally wrung out teachers? If it’s not working for them, that ought to be part of the discussion.

      Will wish you luck with all that’s on your plate, and hope some of those seniors surprise you with their deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply buried math aptitude.

      • I’ve worked in a system what did a year round school calendar. We did 9 weeks on-2 off and had about 6 weeks (as teachers) of summer. The kids got 7 weeks of summer. Where I am now we only take a week off between quarters so it makes for 8-10 weeks of summer break. The shorter summer worked for me but I wasn’t coaching.

        Now, that I help with soccer, if only had 6 weeks, I might have a breakdown. I’ll start conditioning the team in July. And I’ll resent it just a bit. Especially if/when they start complaining about all the running and how hot it is.

  5. Well, I’m retired now so I don’t stress when I don’t get enough sleep.

    Actually, I don’t think I ever got 8 hours of sleep in a row since I was a child. But, I always functioned pretty well on 6 or 7 hours.

    Nowadays I get about 5 or 6 hours but I do “cat nap” a couple of times during the day.

    And when I’ve had a bad night (aches, pains, worries, cats that want to be fed or play in the middle of the night) I just say a little prayer of thanksgiving that at least I don’t have to get up and go to work the next day (smile).

    • How I envy you,and napping is good for us, particularly those short naps you mention. I hope to soon be among those retired from the day job, because it generates a significant amount of stress.

  6. Hmm….
    It’s been said that I am crabby when I am it getting enough sleep!
    Me, crabby…in a bad mood!?!

    When I notice that I need to stop at Dunkins for a medium cup of coffee before work and am easily frustrated — I need to reset my sleeping pattern.

    Getting up and taking a walk with the dogs, skipping the DD coffee run and eating healthier helps me get back on track. I head up to bed at 11pm and read for a bit for a few nights and it seems to help.

    I have noticed that I get stressed after a trip or a busy time at work. It sometimes take a few days to sort out.

    Take it easy and be kind to yourself!

    • The carb cravings are also a tip off to me that I’m outta whack, though they used to hit without fail at a certain time of the month. Nothing I did prevented those cravings.

      Many the donut was sacrificed to my lunar cravings. Many.

      And in Scotland, there were all those scones with fresh butter….

  7. I know I am not getting enough rest when I cannot remember things, when I am foggy, when I am over sensitive, and when I am blue.

    I am not sure what to do about it, except I know I would do better if I got more exercise. Yet that remains a struggle

    • Oh, exercise… exercise is the best treatment for depression going. It does more to lift mood than either talk therapy or pills, and almost as much as both combined. The benefits last longer than either if you backslide, and the they resume more quickly.

      But to me, that’s like saying, “if you were more cheerful, you wouldn’t be depressed.” If people had the gumption to get up and move, then they’d probably also not qualify as depressed.

      (She typed from the tread desk, where she makes herself go….)

  8. I am not sleeping well lately. My class is almost over. The final is on Friday. I am not exercising. I am not eating well. I am not drinking water. Stress level is high and menopause is getting my butt. I will work on my health once the class is over.

  9. I know I haven’t had enough sleep when everything feels…worse. I have a pretty great life, but deprive me of sleep, and my husband’s a jerk, my job is drudgery, my house is a wreck, and my life in general is in shambles. But give me a solid eight and a half hours (eight isn’t QUITE enough for me), and the very same husband is the soul of goodness, my job is fulfilling and meaningful, my house is lovely, and life is oh-so-good.

    Was it dear Uncle Tomas who tells us that you know you have a problem that needs addressing if it interferes with your sleep? Wise words.

    That is why soon, very soon, my little BunBun is going to begin transitioning to solid foods and her own little beddie in her own room. I am not expecting this to be a smooth process of short duration, but I can only be a human pillow for so long.

    Here’s to a good night’s rest!