Writers and Insomnia – Friend or Foe?

Thoughts are curious creatures. They’re generated by our own minds and yet we don’t always have power over them. I don’t think writers have more thoughts than anyone else, but perhaps some of us have ones that are more potent and persistent. And these thoughts may explain why writers often suffer from insomnia.

I’ve had issues with sleeping since I was young. I’d use audio books to try and distract my mind. These days, there’s no quick fix and no real clue as to when it will happen. Sometimes my brain will sing and talk and dance all night long.

So I wondered if other writers had similar issues – and, perhaps unsurprisingly, when I started to investigate I found no end of fellow suffers.

Insomnia is almost an Oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge.


Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov, Sylvia Plath and Chuck Palahnuik – all noted insomniacs. Seeing as we need sleep to avoid a whole raft of physical and of course mental health problems, a lack of it could prove rather detrimental to creativity. It seems unfair that our minds in overdrive can then impact our ability to use that creativity. But, on the other hand there are some ways we can make use of this affliction.

Insomnia as inspiration

As a writer you have to get your inspiration from wherever you can. Our personal experiences often make up the bulk of what we write about because, well, we’ve experienced it. So why not write about sleep or the lack thereof. You’ll be in good company. Marcel Proust wrote “Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time)” in the early hours of the morning, with the time between sleep and awake being a main theme of the book. Maya Angelou was inspired by sleeplessness to write:

There are some nights when
sleep plays coy,
aloof and disdainful.
And all the wiles
that I employ to win
its service to my side
are useless as wounded pride,
and much more painful.

Insomniac, 1983

There’s certainly an interesting perspective that comes with being awake when most people are not.

Insomnia as time-provider

If you’re awake (even if you don’t want to be) then you do have some extra time on your hands. Sylvia Plath enjoyed this time, the peace and quiet, the lack of demands from family or the world at large. Whether you’re someone who would appreciate that time or not is another matter. Chuck Palahnuik wrote “Fight Club” during a bought of sleeplessness (and his central character was also lacking on the sleep front)

Insomnia as stimulation

Steady now – by this I mean some people use substances (drugs and alcohol) to try and battle the symptoms. I don’t recommend this as a benefit to insomnia however. They can be overstimulating instead of quietning. And they come with their own side effects.

Related reads

Can Writing Make You Feel Better?

Collaboration – The Next Big Thing For Writers?

The Good (and the Bad) of Being A Writer With A Day Job

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