Have you ever wondered how you could be getting better sleep?
And why do we creative people so often struggle with sleep, anyway?
Getting better sleep matters.
And I don’t know whether there has been any research demonstrating that creative people sleep any worse than people who don’t identify as creative. But anecdotally, I wonder if there’s a correlation.
Some things I hear from creative people about their sleep include:
- “I sometimes lie awake for hours, feeling excited and planning the next part of my project”
- “My day job isn’t a creative one, so the evenings after work are my creative time – and I get so caught up in making stuff that I get to bed much too late and am too excited to sleep”
- “I will sometimes wake from a really vivid dream that I need to write down or draw, before I can go back to sleep”
- “My creative, imaginative brain drives me mad in the middle of the night: it has me conjuring up the most far-fetched and ridiculous things to worry about!”
- “I’m a performer and sometimes I can be driving back from a gig at 3am or later. My sleep patterns are all over the place”
- “I’m an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). Being out socially in the evenings is over-stimulating to my system; I need a couple of hours to unwind afterwards before I can go to sleep”
Some sleep problems have straightforward answers (and you may find an answer below, in the 12 tips for getting better sleep). But some of our sleep problems are going to be ‘koans’: conundrums, or problems, that are not easy to solve.
Such as, how can you get better sleep if you are physiologically a ‘morning person’ but you play in an orchestra or band with frequent evening performances? Or you’re an HSP but you’re working on a film that requires you to be on set almost all your waking hours? Or you find yourself caught up in a inspired creative flow late at night?
‘Sleep koans’ don’t have obvious answers, and you may need to hold them in mind, unresolved, for a long period of time until something shifts and you see a way through.
People’s Sleep Issues Vary… But Our Sleep Needs May Not
We’re all individuals, and as well as the fact that we differ from each other in our sleep issues, our difficulties (or otherwise) around sleep will alter as we move through the lifespan. Someone who sleeps soundly as a young person will have a different experience as a new parent, and will have further changes to their sleep patterns and needs as they get older. We vary in our problems with sleep. And we know we feel better, and function better, when we’ve had a good night’s rest. So how can we get longer, better quality sleep?
Basic Guidelines for Improved Sleep
In another blog post, 28 Ways to Stop Lying Awake Worrying, I take a look at further, additional tips for getting better sleep that creative people have found helpful – especially those who suffer from anxiety, stress and overwhelm and who sometimes lie awake in the night worrying.
But first, here are some basic tips for getting better sleep, which I’ve borrowed from the book ‘Why We Sleep’ by Dr Matthew Walker*.12 essential tips for getting better sleep, for the #creative person. Click To Tweet
1. Have a Schedule
To get better sleep, it’s best to have a schedule so that your sleeping and waking happen at the same times every day. (And yes – some sleep experts say that there should be no difference here between weekdays and weekends…) You might even want to set an alarm that tells you when to go to bed, to help make sure you don’t stay up later than your normal bedtime.
This can be challenging for creative people. Especially if you’re a performer, or if you do a lot of travelling, or if you like to go to theatre, gigs or concerts that mean you are out much later on some nights than others. So, what to do? I’d say, Don’t aim for perfection, and definitely don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally veer right away from your normal schedule. Just keep in mind as a rough rule of thumb, that you are aiming to keep more-or-less to a regular sleep-wake cycle as far as you can. But as a creative person, you thrive on arts and culture, so don’t give up the cultural events!
2. Exercise – But Be Careful When
You probably already know that getting at least half-an-hour of exercise per day will help you sleep better. But don’t leave it too late in the day: you need to allow two to three hours after exercising, before you aim to fall asleep.
3. Avoid Caffeine and Nicotine
You know that stereotype of the creative person who drinks endless cups of coffee and chain-smokes? Those behaviours are more likely to dampen your creativity rather than enhance it. Ditch them! It may feel hard just at first, but you’ll notice that you’re getting better sleep.
The caffeine in coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate, can take up to eight hours to leave your system. So that afternoon pick-me-up could actually mean you struggle to get to sleep that night. Even decaf contains more caffeine than you’d like to think (15%-30% of the caffeine in a normal cup). Nicotine is a stimulant too, and smokers often sleep less soundly because of it. You may also wake up too soon if your body is experiencing overnight nicotine withdrawal.
4. Drink Less Alcohol
One drink can be relaxing, but much more than that means you can’t get into REM sleep, and you just stay in the lighter stages. Alcohol can also affect your breathing at night, which in turn can affect your quality of sleep. And after drinking, there’s a tendency to wake suddenly in the middle of the night, and to have trouble getting back off to sleep.
5. Avoid Big Meals Late at Night
It’s fine to have a small snack before bed, but a late big meal is likely to affect your digestion and make it harder for you to sleep well. It’s also worth limiting fluids in the evenings, so you’re less likely to need to wake up needing the bathroom.
6. Speak to Your Pharmacist or Doctor about Your Medications
Some prescribed medications (e.g. for heart, blood pressure, or asthma) – as well as over-the-counter ones (e.g. for coughs, colds, or allergies) – can contribute to sleep problems. Ask your pharmacist or doctor if there might be alternatives, such as taking them at other times during the day.
7. Nap Early or Not At All
It can be good to take a daytime nap, to make up for lost sleep. But if it’s after 3pm – maybe you’d be best to power through. A late-afternoon nap could make things worse, come bedtime.
8. Unwind Before Bed
Jumping straight into bed after a busy evening may not be the best way to begin a good night’s sleep. You need to plan your day so that there’s a decent amount of time in the later evening for you to really get a chance to unwind. Reading, drawing, colouring, or listening to relaxing music, are all good pre-bed activities to help you get better sleep.
9. Have a Hot Bath
Just before you go to bed, take a hot bath. As well as it being relaxing, when you get out of the bath your body temperature will drop, which will automatically trigger your body to feel sleepy.
10. Get Your Bedroom Right
Ideally your bedroom would be dark, cool in temperature, and quiet. Your bed should be comfortable, and it’s a good idea to turn your clock face away so you aren’t continually fretting about what time it is. Avoid gadgets – they can be distracting, leading you to miss out on sleep because you’re scrolling through Twitter or watching late-night TV. The blueish light from TV, mobiles and other screens is believed to stimulate wakefulness, too.
11. Grab Some Sun
Exposure to daylight is really important, so your body can regulate its sleep-wake patterns and get better sleep. If possible, get yourself outside for at least 30 minutes each day. If you have big problems with insomnia, get a minimum of one hour outside in natural light each morning, and dim the lights in the evenings.
12. Don’t Lie Awake Too Long
Some experts advise that if you’ve been lying in bed for more than 20 or 30 minutes, then get up and do something relaxing for a bit, until you feel sleepy. Then go back to bed.
What if you’ve tried all these tips, but you still struggle with sleeping?
Or if you wake in the night, worrying?
Fear not. I’ve got 28 suggestions for you to try, in another blog post. 🙂 Getting better sleep is still possible!
Sleep problems can be a sign that you are suffering from anxiety or overwhelm. Seeing a therapist or counsellor can be a really big help.
If you’re creative, sensitive, and thoughtful, and you’ve been struggling with anxiety, worry or feeling overwhelmed, now might be the right time to try some sessions of online counselling or in-person counselling or therapy. I work online with creative people and HSP’s from around the world (although insurance restrictions mean I can’t work with you if you’re in the USA or Canada).
Meanwhile, what have you found helps you get better sleep? Share it in the comments below!
*I found Dr Walker’s book interesting, and many of his suggestions for getting better sleep seem to be echoed by other sleep experts. However Maintenance Phase podcast recently did a very entertaining episode about ‘the sleep loss epidemic’ which helps us not take our sleep – or Dr Walker’s research – too seriously 😉
How to Stop Lying Awake Worrying – 28 Ideas to Try
Why Are Some People So Good at Falling Asleep?
Wide Awake at 3am? Don’t Just Look at Your Phone
Rachel Baker says
Great tips for sleep – very helpful! I think these guidelines would be helpful for anyone who struggles with sleep. Thank you for sharing.
Elizabeth Cush, LCPC says
Great tips Emma! I’ll be sharing this with clients!
Abby Thompson says
Thank you so much, Emma! Sharing this with a few clients- it’s amazing what a little more sleep can do for our overall well-being!