Monday, 19 July 2010

Thoughts on writing and sleep, written while unable to sleep

I have recently been working to a roster that doesn't even bear a passing resemblance to 9-5 or even daylight hours.

That's not a problem - I don't have any particular attachment to concepts of normalcy, and I work well after dark. It's not even the first time I've worked bizarre hours, although it's a lot less physical than serving food and it's a whole lot more regular than the weird, scattered shifts which characterise the various caring jobs.

That regularity, in fact, has given me a fabulous opportunity to investigate sleep patterns.

For a start, regularity breeds regularity. Anyone who's ever tried to sleep in on the weekend after a week of early rising and woken up anyway has had occasion to curse the force of habit. My sleep cycles appear to slip into habit so easily it's downright depressing, not to mention inconveniently inflexible.

For example, I am currently typing this on my phone at 2am, wondering if I'm going to get or need any sleep at all this night.

If I don't it'll be annoying, because it'll be another 25 hours from now before I get another opportunity, and with all the politics I'm going to have to handle in this election run-up, I'm going to need all the sleep I can get.

Which is another thing - how much do I need, exactly?

On a work night I get home at about 2:30am, give or take. It takes at least another half an hour to be ready for bed (I don't like to rush things) and some of that is winding down time after riding home.

I can't usually expect to be nodding off until 3:30.

This is were it gets interesting:

If I have a glass of wine when I get home, I feel happier, sleepier, find it a lot easier to get to sleep and then wake up on or after midday feeling a bit grumpy until I've had tea, food, tea, coffee and sat in the sun until my bones are warm.

If I just try to get to sleep, I'll wake up soon after sunrise, drift off again, and probably be up by 11.

But if I try to read in bed I will recover some energy, realise the time at 4:30, go to sleep and wake up as above but minus an hour which I don't actually miss.

The fourth option, however, is the most interesting.

If I lie in bed and write on this phone - it doesn't particularly matter what, and most of it gets discarded in the light of hindsight anyway - I lose track of an hour, go to sleep at 4:30 and then wake up at 10:30 far too energetic to stay in bed and feeling more restless than I normally do after any normal night.

This intrigues me greatly. Quite apart from being an interesting management strategy, it suggests that whatever mental state I'm in while writing is replacing sleep, and doesn't that just sound too good to be true?

What it suggests to me is a slightly altered state of consciousness - altered compared to my normal, anyway - analogous to meditation. Which probably explains why I've never been able to still my mind whenever I've attempted any form of meditation, and had random running thoughts/daydreams instead. It's just how I'm wired.

What I want to know is: do other writers notice something similar? The phenomenon of any artist, not just writers, losing complete track and conscious sense of time while being creative is well known. But I don't think I've heard of how it affects their sleep patterns, if at all.

And that intrigues me even more.

It is now half an hour of typing with T9 on a phone keypad later, I'm no more tired than I was when I started and it's beginning to look as though sleep just may not happen tonight. Maybe after the sun's up, just to be contrary.

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