I Followed Charles Dickens' and Stephen King's Strange Sleeping Rituals to See if It Would Boost My Productivity

In a desperate attempt to improve my productivity, I decided to try out the sleeping rituals of some of the greats.
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Publish date:
August 26, 2015
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creativity, Writers, i'll try anything once, sleep patterns, Night Owls

For the first-half of my life, I was a lark, a persistent, conscientious, proactive, and happy-go-lucky morning gal.

Without fail, every day (weekends included) I'd wake up at 6 am, tear off my covers, and bolt down the hall at max-speed. I'd easily shake my younger brother, who was also an early bird, awake, but my older sister was another story.

Thunder claps. Skidding cars. The flock of yo-yo wielding flamingos from Fantasia 2000 couldn't stir her. I thought she was a lazy, undisciplined slug-a-bed, who clenched hold of her headboard and flailed her feet, until I hit puberty and became just like her.

Like most night owls, I'm creative and intelligent, but I'm also a temperamental, coffee-addicted insomniac who suffers from a slew of mental disorders: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Agoraphobia, Depression, and Generalized Anxiety. I regularly hit the hay at 4 am and crawl out of bed at noon or 1 pm.

Don't get me wrong. Occasionally, I'll roll out of bed at 5 am or 7 am--armed with a handful of multi-colored, plush rodents -- because my cat, Queenie, won’t stop pouncing on my head or trying to wrestle my hand out from underneath the covers.

For 19 years, from Pre-K to my fifth year of undergraduate school, I experienced "social jet lag." Aside from midnight matinees and the 24-hour Wal-Mart, everything noteworthy always seems to happen during daylight hours, so I’d pop sleeping pills and drink bottles of cherry cough syrup.

I always managed to get enough shut-eye to drag myself to my 8 am classes or into my classroom, where I co-taught kindergarten, second, and third grade. My morning mishaps read like an episode of the Pink Panther. I'd pour java into my instant oatmeal. I'd flick on the boob tube to Good Morning America, where I’d only hear snippets of each story because I'd nod off every couple of minutes.

In haste, I'd mismatch my clothes (polka dot jeans and a floral t-shirt, anyone?) and leave the tag hanging out of my shirt, which annoyed one girl in biology class so badly that she tucked it in every day.

As a night owl, I'm not alone. Noteworthy evening people include:

● Emily Brontȅ: A 19 century novelist and poet who battle bouts of insomnia by walking laps around her dining room table.

● Leonardo Da Vinci: This 15-century Renaissance man followed an extreme sleeping schedule called the Uberman Sleep Cycle, which consists of taking 20-minute power naps every four hours.

● F. Scott Fitzgerald: The author of The Great Gatsby got his shut-eye between 3 am and 11 am.

● Sigmund Freud: The Father of Psychology, who was a regular cocaine user and smoked a whopping 20 cigars a day, would rest between 1 am and 7am.

● Charles Dickens: Suffering from insomnia and with compass in hand, this 19-century novelist slept and wrote north in order to increase his productivity.

● Stephen King: This modern-day science fiction writer points the open side of his pillowcase toward the other side of his bed.

In fact, my chronotype (the time of day I'm most emotionally, mentally, morally, and physically alert) is one of the main reasons I became a freelance writer. However, I’ve found it can also put a real damper on my productivity, so I decided to try out Stephen King and Charles Dickens’ sleeping rituals to see if they’d boost it.

Unlike King, I was only able to sleep for one night with my pillowcases pointed towards the opposite side of the bed. I found that I have to stack my pillows on top of each other (probably because they're so flat) and slant them diagonally to the right to go to sleep. However, I spent seven days writing and sleeping north (I didn’t use a compass. Instead, I used the old sun rises in the east and the sun sets in the west test).

During the week, from 1 pm to 2 am, I participated in the Renegade Writer's #sourcesfromhellin5words contest on Twitter. I entered three haiku contests and researched, wrote, and emailed out five pitches to magazines and blogs. I also visited my local library and checked out the newest copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest.

I finished my writer's website (including the mobile version); something I’ve been putting off for six months. I even sent my full-length poetry to three literary journals. I applied for a prestigious speech writing position. Plus, I answered every one of my emails.

All-in-all, this was an incredibly productive week for me. The results could have been due the placebo effect (Because I thought sleeping and writing north would increase my productivity, it did.) or to the pots of coffee I guzzled. Who knows? Maybe the Victorian author actually was onto something.