Disclaimer: I wrote this blog while severely sleep deprived. I’d been working on a huge project for my day job as a medical editor/writer. You wouldn’t think such a job would require 3+ days of no/minimal sleep. It doesn’t usually, but there are times when we have deadlines and things must get done. I wasn’t sure I’d post this blog. It’s sort of odd and random. But I figured why not? It’s real. And maybe there are people out there who enjoy odd and random or can relate. So, this is my brain on sleep deprivation. I have re-read it and cleaned it up to make it mostly coherent and attempt to cut down on the rambling, but no promises.

The Mind of a Sleep Deprived Writer

Sleep deprivation is a lot like being on drugs. After nearly 48 hours of not sleeping, I feel I can make this declaration. It reminds me of coming out of anesthesia and dropping into a fog of mild painkillers. You can talk and walk. You might even brush your teeth and fix a sandwich. But it’s like one part of your brain is doing those things and the other is watching it from inside a gray cloud going “Hey, that’s happening. How am I doing that?” (If you’ve had your wisdom teeth pulled or other minor medical procedures you might understand this sensation.)

It’s like drifting through your life without actually living it. You notice things and say things, but it’s kind of like you’re not there.

The cycle

In general, I am a terrible sleeper. My mind, foggy once the caffeine has worn off, decides to start running like it’s being chased by a bear through the intellectual woods once my eyes shut. In the light, I sleepwalk. In the darkness, I dream but rarely sleep.

mind of a writer.jpgAfter I’ve turned out the lights and settled into the soft warm covers of my bed, a dog snuggled in the crook of my leg, my mind ping-pongs between unchecked inner thought rants, my family, stories, and the sad state of the world.

It often goes much like this. First I try to clear my mind. Impossible. (See diagram. THAT is happening all the time in my brain, like non-stop.) Next, I’ll spin a story idea over and over again in my head, mostly because I’m worried if I don’t keep repeating it, I’ll forget it. Then because I’m worried I’ll forget it, I’ll grab a sticky note from the bedside table to jot down some reminder words so I can stop thinking. Of course, even though I don’t turn on a light, this still wakes me up and starts the cycle all over again. Except on the next round, I’ll contemplate all the ways I’m a terrible mother, a work issue or how the world will end. In the morning all I have to show for it is red eyes and a sticky note that says something like “lens mark day sad.”

In the morning all I have to show for it is red eyes and a sticky note that says something like “lens mark day sad.”

Some funny and bad things about sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation doesn’t have a lot of benefits. It’s mostly bad. But sometimes it can also be a little funny. Bad, and sometimes funny, things that happen as a consequence of sleep deprivation, include:

  • The jitters/shakes
  • Random fits of laughter
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Your limbs feeling like they can’t hold the weight of paper
  • Getting worse at math and spelling

The worst part might be the forgetfulness. What was I saying? Just kidding. But seriously. When I’m sleep deprived (like now I’m going on nearing 48 hours without any sleep or it might be inching close to 72) I find myself starting a task, then staring out into space. Then I blink, forget what I am doing and start a new task. If only one could succeed in life simply by starting things and never finishing them. Unfortunately, for my sleep-deprived brain, follow-through is generally important.

Another interesting consequence of sleeplessness is that it strips away your filter. This can be very bad if you’re at the store, low on sleep, and the woman in front of you is taking 27 years to go through the self-checkout because for some reason this is the first time she’s ever heard a machine tell her she needs to press a button and put her credit card in a little slot so it can read the chip. She also does not understand why this sends you into a rant about not using the self-checkout if you don’t understand technology while gushing frustrated tears because all you want to do is buy a stupid carton of milk and go home to sleep. (See also emotional outburst above.) [Note: This did not actually happen to me, but is representative of my potential reaction in such situations when on a no-sleep brain.]

Writing on a sleep-deprived brain

From a writer’s standpoint, writing sleep deprived isn’t something I recommend. It’s like writing drunk. Whatever you’re writing in that state seems fantastic at the time, genius even, the best thing you’ve ever written. The next morning you find some monster has snuck into your house and rewritten it into a jumbled, rambling mess. (Evidence: the blog you are currently reading.)

The next morning you find some monster has snuck into your house and rewritten it into a jumbled, rambling mess.

Sleep is important. But when you’re too tired to worry about whether or not what you write makes sense, some interesting stuff ends up on the page. I’m sure tomorrow the story I’ve concocted about what goes on in my dog’s brain when she’s barking so loudly at the other dogs from her perch on the window seat that her whole body shakes will not seem so clever. It definitely has something to do with sending secret coded messages to the dog overlords on the planet Fido who are waiting until we’re too distracted yelling at our dogs to stop barking and scooping up poop to notice they’ve come to our planet and eaten all our peanut butter.

But right now it sounds great.

And I’m going to sleep now. G’night.