I'm a writer. I love quality narratives, both reading and writing them. My greatest hope in life is that I can make a living solely off of writing narratives, but even if that doesn't happen any time soon, I'm happy that I've found my life's passion. I feel bad for people who never find that passion which if often their missing piece to completing their life. It's an un-talked of subject that is the bane of many adult's existence.
During the last ten years, a major roadblock to my writing has been a vicious sleep problem that only seemed to get worse over time. It started when I switched from a swing shift to an early morning shift while working at Warner Bros. Remember the WB network? Dawson's Creek, 7th Heaven, Felicity? I used to work in the master control room that fed that network out to all of the local affiliates. One day, CBS and Warner Bros. decided to combine UPN and the WB into a new network: the CW. They moved the control room to New York, and suddenly I'm moved to a day shift. That worked out for me at the time, because I was working on my MBA, and most of my classes were at night.
Years go by, and my sleep issue only gets worse. I have to wake up at 5am every day to start the commute, and I struggle throughout the day. Then suddenly, at 6pm I'm wide awake—every single day. When I try to force myself to go to sleep at 9 or 10pm, I can't. Not even close.
I complete my MBA, take a year or so off from school (while I continue working), and then tackle an MFA. Too much going on, commute just gets worse every year, and sleep never improves.
My doctors put me on every type of medication possible, none of which work in the long-run, and I get increasingly frustrated because lack of sleep is the one thing that prevents me from doing what I love to do most—writing quality narratives, or at least attempting to. Over time, I get more frustrated because after putting tens of thousands of hours into writing, I think I'm actually getting pretty good at it, but I'm so tired all the time, I can't focus on doing it as well and as often as I'd like to.
I complete my MFA, and with my degrees behind me, I actually think I'll finally settle down into good nightly sleep. But, no. I'm always tired throughout the day and am wide awake as the sun starts going down.
Then a few weeks ago, I get the opportunity to switch back to swing shift. Once I do, I go to bed when I'm naturally tired (around 2am) and am able to quickly fall asleep every single time. Even when my noisy neighbors wake me up early because they want to start their never-ending construction on their house for the day, if their buzzsaws quiet down for a few minutes, I'm easily able to take a nap. Like turning off a light switch, my ten year old sleep problem disappears overnight. I quit taking all of my prescription sleep meds, and I still have no problem falling asleep.
I talked about it with my primary sleep doctor yesterday (you know you have a problem when you have more than one sleep doctor), and he apologized because he now thinks he knows why my sleep problem existed, and what could have been done to help it, years ago.
We all have a circadian rhythm that regulates our body. This biological clock, per say, is adjusted by external cues called 'zeitgebers.' One important zeitgeber is light. Your body is used to absorbing morning light, which is a cue to stop melatonin production and increase testosterone production. This signals your body that the day has begun. Your body then goes into a process of regulating itself for the day. When the sun drops, your body decreases testosterone production and increases melatonin to put you to sleep.
Many years ago, when I was working swing shift, I had mornings off, and I would go on long walks or hikes many times a week. The morning sun set my clock going into day cycle. Everything worked like it should have.
When I moved to early morning day shift, I'd drive to work in the dark, and then stay in a dark control room until 3:30pm. I'd commute home, and then try to take a walk around 5pm. That was when sun starting hitting my skin, and my body took it as a cue that the day was beginning. I could never fall asleep at 9pm because my body didn't think it was nighttime. I would fall asleep around 2am or so, because that's when my body thought that night began. Then my alarm would wake me up 5am, and I'd have to deal with another hard day after only getting 3 hours of sleep.
Switching back to swing shift fit what my clock was currently wired to be, perfectly.
Had my sleep doctor realized that a few years ago, he would have put me on light therapy. The key is to get your body thinking that morning is at the start of the day. There are bright, white lights that are designed specifically to do so. For people like me, who work in dark, enclosed places, this can be a very useful tool.
I actually bought one about a week ago. I have it stationed on a table in my living room. Much of the morning I'm in the living room, in front of my tv (which is a plasma, so I need to keep my shades shut to see it), I need a light shining on me for a few hours to keep my circadian rhythm properly tuned. I'm currently changing up my kitchen so I can do some writing there in the morning, where sunlight pours in, so that should help too. Plus, I'll be doing my morning hikes and such.
Tuning my circadian rhythm to my work and sleep schedule is the solution that I've long looked for and have finally found.
So I think my problem is finally solved, at a great time too, because I am ready to pour monster amounts of hours into my writing. For writers that live far north, and get tired during the winter months—your circadian rhythm may be off. Use a mood light in the morning to get it back on track. Without a lot of light in your day, you probably have a vitamin D deficiency as well, like I do, which only adds to the feeling of being tired.
Sleep is the most crucial element for writers to do their job well. Sleep problems can be complex. Spending time with the right doctors and doing the research to find out what the core of the problem is, is absolutely crucial in solving the problem.
The worst thing in the world is to find what you truly love to do, and then not be able to do it well because of a problem that can be corrected. Do the work to find the solution to the problem. It may take years, but if you can correct it, your life will be improved in tremendous ways—and your love of craft will only deepen.