Writers in the Storm

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November 18, 2019

Nurturing the Creative Spark Through Sleep

by Ellen Buikema

Like many writers, I am fortunate to have a varied and interesting dreamlife. However, for almost a year after beginning our retirement travels I was unable to recall any dreams.

No dreams. No writing. Not good.

My dreamtime, normally filled with weird and thought-provoking scenarios, became a void. Sleep is playtime for the brain, and mine didn’t seem like it was having any fun.

If we don’t dream, we lose contact with reality.

Normally I’d remember enough of a dream for a short film, so not dreaming was a real concern. The most I’d recall upon waking was a fleeting feeling or snippet. In one, a kitten ran at me and jumped into my arms with such joy and force that it woke me up.

As I’d prefer not to be psychotic, I needed to know why the wonderful and sometimes frightening series of unconscious escapades escaped from memory.

Repercussions of Sleep Deprivation

I recognized that sleep deprivation was creeping into my life from my days as a new mom who tried to do everything herself, and didn’t take the sage advice of other parents. They’d point out that I should sleep whenever the baby slept. That would have been a wise choice, as not sleeping enough caused hallucinations.

Depriving the mind and body of sleep slows the brain’s ability to absorb visual information and translate the data into thought. Recent events fade fast, never arriving in long-term storage for future use.

Attempting to write in this state of mind was an exercise in futility, reading and re-reading paragraphs with nothing sinking in. Sleep deprivation was killing my creativity, making me cranky, and giving me a craving for carbs.

Feed me bread, lots of bread. Slather on the butter, too.

The Plaza, The Pigeons, and my Poor Sleep Cycle

My husband and I are living in a joyously noisy country. Roosters crow, dogs bark, vehicles blare, fireworks blast, people enjoy life (aka partying until 3 AM with a live band).

In my search for the elusive Sandman I tried several methods:

  • Meditation,
  • Siestas (Naps)
  • CBD oil
  • Earplugs for varying decibel levels
  • Rainstorm background sounds
  • A sleep mask
  • Reading (a non-thriller) at bedtime
  • White noise
  • Long walks
  • I even tried stuffing a pillow over my ears.

Each morning before the sunrise I awoke to the sound of pigeons either calling for a mate, or having an orgy on the small patio outside our bedroom. Pigeons are messy creatures, and can be very (very) loud.

At first I tapped on the window to get the chubby little monsters to move. This only helped once.  We tried all kinds of things: flapping curtains, opening the glass slider, playing recorded sounds of predators, bird spikes, corn oil mixed with hot pepper.

Our unwanted, accidental outdoor pets paused briefly to listen to the predator calls, then ignored the sounds and got back to the business of being pigeons.

The neighbors shoot rubber bands at the pigeons. My aim is terrible; you should see me try to bowl. Plus, I don’t want to hurt them. But I needed them to go elsewhere, so I decided to try a water pistol. Waldo’s dollar mart had what I needed, something that looks a bit like a miniature Super Soaker.

The next day I was ready for them.

I crept upstairs toward the bedroom, water-filled child’s toy in hand, to interrupt the red-eyed vermin's noisy fun on the patio. They ignored me until hit with a water stream. 

The water pistol has helped a bit. The early morning debauchery has lessened and I am sleeping better with the additional help of CBD oil.

Finally, as a treat, my brain served up an anxiety dream. It’s a start.

National Institute of Health's tips for good sleep:

  1. Set a schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  2. Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed.
  3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed.
  4. Relax before bed – try a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine.
  5. Create a room for sleep – avoid bright lights and loud sounds, keep the room at a comfortable temperature, and don’t watch TV or have a computer in your bedroom.
  6. Don’t lie in bed awake.  If you can’t get to sleep, do something else, like reading or listening to music, until you feel tired. 
  7. See a doctor if you have a problem sleeping or if you feel unusually tired during the day.  Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively.

Dreams are important to characters too!

I’ve used character’s daydreams and thoughts from a meditative state to advance a plot. Characters also suffer from insomnia and interrupted sleep. James Scott Bell recently did a great post on characters' dreams.

Other great reads:

Have any of your characters had a dream that influenced their behavior? Have you ever experienced insomnia? How does your sleep (or dreams) affect your creativity. Share your tricks for better sleep down in the comments!

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About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historical fiction.

Find her at http://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

10 comments on “Nurturing the Creative Spark Through Sleep”

  1. Pigeons having orgies! Hilarious...but not conducive to sleep. I have a very hard time getting to sleep, although I do great once I'm under. Coffee after 4 pm and the full moon are the biggest culprits for my insomnia. Upping my exercise can also help.

    1. Yes! Pigeon orgies. Some time in the future I expect this whole episode will be funny to me, too. I hadn't considered the full moon, but that can certainly play with the emotional system and does give off a lot of light.

  2. I definitely prioritize my sleep! And it really helped me to learn meditation so that at bedtime I could use some of those same practices to shut down my mind. That said, I almost never remember my dreams.

    1. Hi Julie! I am doing a short study of adrenal fatigue. The number one item on the must do list for adrenal health is sleep. I think many of us aren't getting enough. Someone suggested to have glass of water before bed to deliberately make yourself need to get up. The thought is that you'd wake up in the middle of the night and recall a dream.

      Meditation is awesome and seems to be hardest to do when you need it most. I need to be more regular with my practice. I get lazy sometimes

    2. Wow, Eldred! Thank goodness for the CPAP. You must have been living the zombie life with such horrible sleep apnea.

      The Waking Room sounds like something I need to read.

      I'm glad you were amused by my Fudd-like behavior. Some day I'll have a good laugh about it.

  3. Okay Ellen, when you talked about sneaking out there with the water gun, I heard you speaking in Elmer Fudd's voice. "Be vewy quite. I'm hunting pigeons." Now that that's out of my system, on to the serious stuff.

    I used to have horrible insomnia and never remembered dreams. My ENT finally sent me for a sleep study and I was found to have sleep apnea. Bad sleep apnea. Like 80+ episodes per hour apnea. I was put on a CPAP. That was almost 10 years ago and it changed my life. I now sleep much better and dream vividly. Not coincidentally, I've also written three books and countless short stories since then, including on that I dreamed (The Waking Room). Sleep is extremely important to maintain mental health and creativity.

    Sweet dreams, my friend.

  4. Oh. My. Gosh! I so needed to hear this. I've tried many of these tips to fall asleep, stay asleep, or just get enough sleep to function. It's so irritating that my mind won't leave me alone if I'm trying to sleep or wake up and then try again to sleep. I wish you all pleasant Zzzz's each and every night. Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Hi Victoria! Yesterday, in my continued search for peace of mind, I came across a helpful YouTube video, short and to the point, that shows acupressure points to help the mind relax. It did not work immediately for me but I was noticeably more chilled out afterward. Same for the hubby who also tried this quick method.


      Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! Since there are lots of Canadians living in Mazatlan, we celebrated with them so we get two Thanksgiving dinners here. LOL.

      I wish you the best.

    1. I hear you, d. Sometimes I wish I had a problem-box where all my worries go. That way I could pull them out one at a time to think over instead of trying to tackle everything at once.

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