Boy, Am I Cranky




Posted by Kathy Waller


There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep. ~ Homer


(A word in this post contains a zero in place of an o. If you find it, go to the head of the class. I saw it but now I can’t find it to correct it. There’s an and for an, too. Yes, this is pertinent to the subject of the post.)

Ten a.m., and I was dead tired.

IMG_0212I’d awakened at seven a.m., put sheets in the washing machine, piled three loads on the landing to do later, folded a load taken from the dryer, hidden one load of clean towels under the couch pillows so the guy cats couldn’t sleep on them, dressed myself, and driven downtown.

Now I was sitting on a stool at the computer bar of my office-coffee shop, checking email and thinking about continuing to revise the manuscript of a short story I’ve been working on.

But my tired went to the bone, and more to the point, the brain. I just sat there, IMG_0827staring at the screen, reading the most interesting emails, scanning a blog post here and there, eating pumpkin bread and drinking Earl Grey tea, and trying not to put my head on the keyboard and fall asleep.

Then a post on Kristin Lamb’s Blog: “Can Being Tired Make Us Better Writers?” appeared on the screen. The title seemed synchronous, so I read it.

I expected Lamb to say that being tired prevents our being good writers, that we need to rest our bodies and our brains before we address the page. I was wrong. Lamb says being tired can make us better writers, and she makes an excellent argument in supp0rt of her position. Contrary to my expectations, I agreed.

IMG_0830.1But Lamb’s tired and the way I felt that morning were two different things.

I’m sleep-deprived and my Circadian rhythms are a tangled mess. Several years ago, following a death in the family and some chronic depression that had crept back after a bit of respite–depression is insidious–I began staying up late at night. Then later. And later. Not having to meet and eight-to-five schedule, I was free to sleep in the morning as long as I needed to.

Complicating the matter was the tendency for my brain to switch on about nine p.m. and keep going until about four a.m. I have more energy then. I write better then. I move the refrigerator and sweep under it better then. Really, my best housework occurs about three in the morning.

I’m not a Lady Macbeth. When I go to bed, I go to sleep. The truth is, I’ve never wanted to go to sleep. As a child, I protested, mildly (I IMG_0832.1knew it wouldn’t work) but sincerely, every night when bedtime rolled around. I protested every afternoon at nap time. That never worked either. My mother said if I didn’t have my nap, I would be cranky all evening, and furthermore, even if I didn’t need a nap, she did.

But as college drew near, parents withdrew from the bedtime thing. One night when I was about sixteen, I was sitting in the living room when The Tonight Show came on. The older generation had disappeared. I realized I’d been left to decide. It was a little scary. I went to bed.

But in college, with no external controls, and dorm mates who kept odd hours, I forgot all about needing sleep or being cranky. I learned essays for freshman English flowed (relatively speaking) from the pen around one in the morning. Studying went better, too.

IMG_0838Everything went better, until the day I woke fifteen minutes before my eight o’clock speech class in Old Main, at the top of College Hill. I roomed at the bottom of College Hill. Any student absent from or egregiously late to Dr. Abernathy’s class had to atone by writing a report.

Suffice it to say I took my seat on the second floor of Old Main 7.5 minutes before class started. I didn’t look, or feel, good, but I was there.

Note: Only alums of Texas State University-San Marcos–Southwest Texas State University when I was there–will fully understand what I’m talking about. The dorms are on the low, flat side of the Balcones Escarpment. Old Main lies on the other side, almost straight up. It is well known that girls living in the dorms at the bottom of College Hill have the best-developed calf muscles in the Western Hemisphere.

IMG_0844Oversleeping never happened again. Every night I set three alarm clocks, two of which were across the room. And I never stayed up late before an exam. What I didn’t know by ten o’clock remained unknown.

Because I’d like to get to bed tonight, I’ll summarize the rest of the story:

I graduated from college, got dumber, and by the time I was in my forties, had my days and nights mixed up. Since I was working outside the home, I slept mostly on weekends. When I finally decided things had to change, I read about sleep deprivation and, with determination and a few melatonin tablets (and my doctor’s okay), I reset my sleep pattern. And my health, both mental and physical, improved.

IMG_0828.1But I am an optimist, which in my case means never learns from experience, or thinks she can do a thing the same way she did it before and get a different result. (There’s another word for that, but we won’t discuss it.)

So here I am with what my husband calls my Cicada Rhythms out of whack. During the day, I’m awake, but I feel ratty. At night, I wake up and feel fine. Or did. Until a couple of days ago. Now I just feel ratty. I’m putting my health at risk. I’m creating the perfect conditions for weight gain. My brain isn’t working as well as it should.

And my writing? Uh-huh. Being this kind of tired hasn’t made me a better writer. It’s just made me a zombie.

IMG_0837.1Anyway, after dinner, my husband kindly went out and procured a bottle of melatonin. I took a tablet thirty minutes before I expected to be in bed. That was over an hour ago. My eyelids are heavy. And typing is going more and more slowly . . .

So I shall end.

As I said in the beginning of this post, at the most basic level, I agree with what Kristin Lamb said in her post. But when I’m tired at the most basic level, I’m more likely to stare at a monitor and make my way slowly through my email than to write.

IMG_0842It’s interesting, though, that staring and going slowly through my email was what alerted me to Lamb’s post. Reading it made me realize why I was so tired. The realization led me to do something about it.

Tracing this back to its source, I find–if my brain hasn’t gone wonky again–that in a Rube Goldberg sort of way, being dead tired can make me a better writer.

It’s after midnight. And suddenly I’m awake. I could go on all night.



Speaking of The Tonight Show, I found this video on Youtube: Kermit the Frog hosting in place of Johnny Carson. Vincent Price and Bernadette Peters (and I don’t remember who else) guest. It’s the entire show, from 1979, and one of the best. If you can take the time, watch it, even in little segments. Laughter is and sleep are good medicine.


Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write and every fifth week at Austin Mystery Writers.

21 thoughts on “Boy, Am I Cranky

  1. Great post Kathy. I have always had an abundance of energy, and like you, sleep wasn’t really important. I could stay up all night sewing, writing, reading, or just about anything else I needed done and feel perfectly fine the next day, even though I’d had maybe two or three hours of sleep. I never slept well as a child and hid under my blankets in bed with a flashlight so I could read late into the night. When I got caught I got my flashlight taken away, so I borrowed my sister’s. She never used it anyway. lol I’ve done much of my best writing in the late hours. My thought is that the stress of the day was over, the kids were in bed and hubby was in the bedroom watching tv. The problem was that once I got started I could’t stop. I’m not of the opinion that being tired or no sleep makes you a better writer, but I’m sure it can co-exist with changing ones habits so that you sleep at night and still write well, I now take something to sleep and keep a schedule (this was my doctor’s idea). So, at 10:00 pm I quit watching tv with the hubster, get ready for bed and begin my nightly routine. It consists of writing in my journal about my day and feelings, a crossword puzzle, meditation, and if I’m still not too tired, a little reading. For the first time in my life I’m getting 6-7 hours of sleep a night and it feels good! I’m more rested, have moved my writing to another time of day and am feeling much better overall. I’ve added exercise to my routine as well. Circadian rhythms can really affect your life. I think I wrote in another comment about the fact that the time change totally threw me off all of my life. I was miserable, couldn’t get used to sleeping again, everything was all messed up inside. Funny then, this year I passed through the time change with flying colors and felt fine. I’m sure it’s due to the fact that I’m sleeping better and maybe one or more of the meds I’m taking for Bipolar disorder. At any rate, keep the faith. There’s no law that says you can’t write at night, but I would sure have a long nap penciled in for the afternoon. Good luck and thanks for a very informative and interesting post!


    1. “The problem was that once I got started I couldn’t stop.” Here you’ve gone to the heart of the issue. I just don’t want to stop. Bed feels so good when I finally get there, but I have a hard time shifting gears. I really do need eight or more hours of sleep.

      I’ve recently started taking a med for Bipolar Disorder and find myself becoming a reasonable person and much happier. But I’ve been reluctant to mention BID online. You’ve given me the push I needed to write about it, sooner or later. Thanks.


      1. Don’t worry. I have taken almost two years to become open about BD. I did tell Cherley early on and my family. That’s it. I was in pretty rough shape when I started on the meds and a routine. My life is so much more livable without the extreme ups and downs I had suffered. Sleeping well made a big difference for me too. I was very fortunate to find a wonderful therapist and the best doctor ever! As I began to accept my disorder I actually realized it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Now I know the rest of the story! lol


  2. You were telling the story of my life. What were you doing in my brain?

    Just kidding, but I related to what you were saying. Some of my best improv writing is when I am tired, the censor are turned of. And I do wake up about 10pm, so…. I wish you the best on your new/old system. We the readers will gain the benefit. (Smile) Doris


    1. Ah, another kindred spirit. Are we all night owls? Since it’s now nearly 2:00 a.m., you see how well I’m doing. Tomorrow. Thanks for the comment.


    1. Another one? I can’t go for days, but if necessary I can stay awake for nearly 48 hours. That came in handy when I was working on my master’s degree. Work all day, write all night, work all day, drive to evening class and read oral abstract of paper, sleep about six hours, work . . . I probably crashed at work but didn’t know it. Thanks for the comment.


  3. Interesting flow-of-consciousness approach to writing your “I am feeling ratty” post. It worked. The very quality of the writing in the post shows that yes indeed feeling ratty can improve writing.


  4. Interesting how many of us can relate to your sleeping issues! I always loved sleeping, until I got to an age where I actually could (kids grown, mostly retired) and it doesn’t work as well anymore! Some of our hospice patients use melatonin, and it seems to work for some. Also, I have always liked evening shifts, and night shifts worked well in my younger years. I was more alert then too. Maybe it has to do with creative brains! But nature decreed we need about 8 hrs of sleep and our bodies do get out of sync. Glad to hear the stories of those who got back in sync and that you all feel better. Guess I’ll try melatonin too. But the peacefullness of night when interruptions are gone, sure do help concentrating on a story!


  5. This is a cute post. I totally understand. When I was a teen, I would get up in the middle of the night and clean the whole house and this carried through to my child rearing years. Now, as an older adult my system has changed and as in my last blog, I talked about SAD, which I have a mild case of, I go to bed with the chickens, but I rise before the sun. As a truck driver, I mostly drive at night, with an occasional day thrown in. Love the cats. They are gorgeous. Cher’ley


  6. Also, lol, I wrote my first novel, almost entirely after 10 pm at night, 60,000 words, yet unpublished. I saw both errors, but I am not a member of the Grammar Police, so typos or minor mistakes don’t bother me. Cher’ley


  7. I can relate, especially to the part about staying up later and later. I have begun to realize that this is a way of my mind telling me that all is not well and of sabotaging myself by not getting the rest I need. Great post.


  8. Great post, Kathy. I’ve never been that sleep deprived. The summer between college and grad school I worked a night shift job that messed me up a bit–night shift hours during the week, day shift hours on the weekend. I hope you get your much needed rest soon.


  9. Kathy, you and my husband are cut from the same cloth! He is a night owl and I am a morning dove — I get up 5 to 6 am and do my best writing. By 3 pm I am DONE IN! (and it’s 5 pm my time now!! HA!) I often do stay up late but I do things that are not very creative and I find if I stay up til 11 or midnight messing around on the computer, that makes me even more tired the next morning — I think computer screens produce waves that zap us and make our bodies and brains quit working!! I hope you get some much needed rest very soon!!


  10. I tend to look at blogs- like this one- late at night before bed(since my house is quiet) but I’m not at my best much beyond midnight. I’m neither a night owl nor a lark. I really do feel ‘off’ if my 7 hours sleep doesn’t happen,


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