Sleep Strategies for the Stay At Home Writer/Dad

Sleep patterns vary widely according to age, development, and individual temperament. As such, any new parent quickly learns that what worked a few weeks ago, may not work today, leading to late nights and frustration. In spite of this, the Writer/Dad’s double fulltime job of writing and childcaring both demand that he bring his A-game every day, regardless of how tired he is.

Sheep on Hillside

Go Ahead – Count ’em, I dare you.
Photo Courtesy of Brenna Richardson © 2013

Here are some sleep techniques for both you and the kiddo, take from them what you will.

Sleep When They Sleep

This age-old adage is a wonder tonic for the tired father. When kiddo goes down for a nap you do too. Tina Fey has some additional adages as well:

‘Sleep when your baby sleeps.’ Everyone knows this classic tip, but I say why stop there? Scream when your baby screams. Take Benadryl when your baby takes Benadryl. And walk around pantless when your baby walks around pantless.  ~ Tina Fey

This technique is great if you’re tuckered out after a long night of colicking baby, or temperamental rewriting. The downside is that you are losing some valuable quiet time you might otherwise use for writing.

Your Friend from Sweden, Mr. BJÖRN

It is possible to write when your child refuses to sleep. If your spouse is tapped out for the night and the kid refuses to calm down unless you walk her around the living room, strap in her the babybjorn for the duration. I tend to pace the floor when I am spitballing ideas or outlining anyway. There is a breakfast bar between our kitchen and living room that is the perfect height for my laptop while I am standing up. It works pretty well. I’ve also written drafts with her strapped on, bouncing on an exercise ball, and more than once my writing has put her to sleep. Sad but true.

Work in Shifts

I heartily recommend that you only attempt the Writer/Dad life with the help of a loving spouse. So long as you are both game for it, working in shifts can benefit couples dealing with sleepless zombie children. Sometimes this means that one spouse handles the shushing and feeding until, say, 2am when the other spouse takes over. Other times it can be a one-day-on-one-day-off nursing shift type operation.

Split the Weekend Difference

There was a brief time in my Writer/Dad life when my Taquito woke up every morning around 10am. It was glorious. We slept like rock stars. It was also, unfortunately, very short-lived. Now, on the weekends my wife wakes up with Taquito for her first awake period  (~6:30am-8:00am) and I take the second period (~9:30am-11:00am) while my wife naps. This way we both get to sleep a little extra on the weekends.

Rocking the Podcasts

If your child is young enough to need rocking to sleep, I recommend some writing/brain stimulating podcasts. No time with your child is wasted time, but it doesn’t hurt to give your brain a little something to do while you engage in sleep-inducing repetitive body motion. Here are a few of my current favorite podcasts, some of them deal with writing, some storytelling, others random stuff.

BBC World Service, Planet Money, Scriptnotes, Stuff You Should Know, This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Writer’s Almanac, The Q&A With Jeff Goldsmith, The Nerdist Podcast, NYT Book Review, etc.

There are quite a few services that provide readings of classics and/or public domain works online for free. Librovox being one of the better-known ones. I’ve recently come across a service by Florida University called “Lit 2 Go” that hires pretty decent readers for classical works. Definitely worth your time.

Of course, when you choose to write will affect when and how long you sleep too.

Write Like a Farmer

Some people like to get the brunt of their writing out of the way before the sun comes up.  This way, they can meet their benchmarks regardless of how crazy their day gets.  This is a good idea, so long as you have the discipline to haul yourself out of bed in the morning.

Write Like a Vampire

Other people prefer to write late into the night after everyone has gone to sleep. This style works well for people whose natural genetic makeup disincline them to waking up in the morning. The downside is that, at the end of a long day, you may not have much left in the tank to apply to your writing.

Write Like a Squirrel with ADD

I have an app on my phone (Evernote) that allows me to write notes that magically appear on my computer. This is extremely helpful when I come up with a story idea while I am on a walk or cooking dinner. Some people write full manuscripts this way, piecemeal, a few sentences at a time, between sips of coffee, naps, and dirty diapers. If you can do this, more power to you.

There you go. Those are a few suggestions that may help out. Get the sleep you need, in whatever way works best for you.

Your turn to contribute. What strategies have you come up with to get the sleep you need? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you liked this post, go ahead and click the +FOLLOW button on the bottom right of your screen. Thanks!


Joshua Rigsby is a freelance writer, tea drinker, and full-time father based in Los Angeles, California.

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