Crabs May Yawn, but They Don’t Write Well

Laura Ayo

My favorite pair of pajamas has grumpy-looking crabs with “Crabby in the Morning”  written all over the fabric. That phrase describes me well on most days. It especially suits me if someone or something wakes me up before my alarm goes off, or if my alarm beeps at me with any number lower than a seven glowing on the display. If it’s dark and below 40 degrees outside, I’m even more crabby. And if it’s below 20 degrees outside, I am the evil queen of all the crabs in the kingdom. I woke up today at 5:30 a.m., but because it was only 53 degrees outside, my level of crabbiness was manageable with some caffeine. Lately, however, I’ve been pondering how my sleeping patterns affect other aspects of my life, particularly my writing.

I’ve certainly experienced periods in my life when I didn’t get enough sleep. But my son started high school this year and, as expected, we have had to adjust to a laundry list of new things, including a new routine that starts dreadfully early because his swim team practices before school starts. So, we are up at 5:30 a.m. The early wake-up time wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that my daughter’s middle school swim team practices in the evenings. By the time she gets home, it’s 9:30 p.m. While he’s going to bed early and she’s sleeping in, I’m doing neither. Certainly, some people can function just fine with as little as six hours of sleep each night, every night. But it became clear last week that I am not one of those people.

Last week, my kids were out of school for fall break. I set no alarms, letting my body wake up when it determined it was well rested. I slept at least eight hours at night. Every night. For a whole week straight. The activity-free week helped me realize just how much sleep deprivation over the past month had been affecting me. I was a much happier person last week. I had actual conversations with my family. I read without falling asleep after the first couple of sentences. I wrote, realizing I had only written 100 words on my manuscript since swim season started. And when I re-read those measly 100 words, I cringed at how devoid of emotion and substance they were. Some didn’t even make sense.

Clearly, something needed to change.

In researching ways to get more sleep, I found some of the suggestions impractical. If I could go to bed earlier, I would. And clearly the person who suggested going to bed at the same time each night does not live with teenagers who have homework and after-school activities that end at different hours each night of the week. As for the advice to avoid sleeping in, even on the weekends? Tell that to a sleep-deprived mama who doesn’t have to be anywhere but a nice cozy bed on a Saturday morning.

But some of the suggestions seemed do-able. Taking a 15 to 20-minute nap during the day is something I’ve done with great success in the past when my work-load permits, which it often does. Exposing myself to bright light during the day is something I can easily pull off, seeing that I work in front of a huge window and have a puppy that needs walking and outside play-time during the day. Avoiding bright screens within a couple of hours before bedtime isn’t something I’ve consciously tried before, but it’s a simple fix that I can certainly pull off, especially since I prefer watching television during my lunch break and reading before bed. And since I’m a traditionalist who prefers books to e-readers, I don’t usually read with a back-lit screen. I was happy to learn that as little as a 10-minute walk improves sleep quality. Thankfully, my daily walks with our puppy take longer than 10 minutes. Limiting caffeine will be a tough one because that’s what I reach for when I’m fighting to keep my eyes open. But it will be easy to implement some of the before-bed relaxation techniques like stretching and deep breathing.

I have no idea if these techniques will be enough to help me get the zzz’s I need to get back to a solid writing habit, but my sanity and the hope for a completed novel will make me try. I’ll let you know about my progress. In the meantime, it’s time for me to go to bed. Sleep tight!

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