Working in a creative field as a freelance writer, I often stay up too late at night and find it hard to get to sleep when I do go to bed. It rang a bell when I read that “creative, gifted and highly sensitive” people may be more subject to anxiety. When you go to bed and sleep badly or not at all, you may experience your anxiety as restlessness, tossing and turning, jolting awake suddenly, nightmares, or brief panic attacks. These prevent you from getting the deep, restorative REM sleep you need, and can, in turn, hinder your creativity.
Anxiety, I’ve learned, is a habit like any other, and it can be calmed in a number of ways. Below are some recommended interventions for calming worries and fears that may be arising from your creative work.
- Consciously make an effort to calm yourself down an hour or so before you want to go to sleep. Dim the lights, and find an easy, quiet distraction to engage your mind with lighter concerns (I play solitaire). Make yourself a cup of soothing peppermint, lemon or ginger tea.
- Establish a consistent bedtime. This actually trains your brain to get tired at a certain time of night. Following a familiar winding-down routine can be comforting.
- Write in your journal, or just jot down a few thoughts on a slip of paper. I find this to be invaluable when I get stuck chewing over a worry or a negative feeling. Getting a thought out of my mind and onto a piece of paper gives me the space to calm down and think of other, less consequential things.
- Stay away from your bed after you get up in the morning, and reserve it for sleeping. Sitting in bed and working, texting, eating or talking on the phone are all distractions. Going to bed means going to sleep.
- Some quiet background noise can also help distract you from your worries and get to sleep more easily. Turn on the radio at a low volume.
- If your anxiety is strong, stop trying to sleep and distract yourself. Get up and walk around a little, read a book, do a little chore. As my sister once advised, “Do anything except think about your life!”
And don’t forget: You’re not alone. Insomnia plagues an estimated 50-70 million Americans and is cited as one of the top 10 reasons for lower productivity at work. It makes it harder to focus on your work, makes you more prone to making errors, and makes you more inclined to emotional mood swings. We could all have other habits we may not even be aware of that are disrupting a normal night’s sleep, so make sure you get the sleep you need to be at peak creativity.
Julie is a Creative Circle candidate, experienced freelance writer, editor, and content creator in Santa Monica, California. A mentor and a career advisor, she cares about the community of freelancers who are finding new ways to work successfully in today’s gig economy. If you’re interested in working with Julie, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.