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:
- 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:
- Set a schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day but no later than a few hours before going to bed.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed.
- Relax before bed – try a warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- The Dangers of Dream Deprivation
- Why You Can’t Think Straight When You’re Sleep Deprived
- Sleep Disorders in Early Psychosis
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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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.