The Best Time to Write a Novel: Circadian Rhythms for Writers

While I attempted to not quote, this information is taken from The Power of When, by Michael Breus. I recommend you read the book for more details.

In the morning, sunlight hits your eyes and activates your circadian rhythm for the day. Your temperature, blood pressure, thinking, hormones, energy, creativity, and more, fluctuate according to this inner clock. This means there actually IS a best time for you to eat, sleep, write, and learn.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the early bird and the night owl. In reality, there are four chronological types. I’ll call them the Earlys (15-20% of the population), the Mids (50%), the Lates (15-20%), and the Chaotics (10%). Up until the invention of electrical lights, the Earlys and Lates served to guard society at either end of the day, while the Mids worked during the day. The lightly-sleeping Chaotics would wake at small noises and warn of danger. There is a range within each category, so you could be an early-ish Mid, for example.

Some of you probably know your chronotype already. Some of you might wish you were different and want to know if you can change. Well, sort of, but no. Let me explain. Babies tend to be Lates, toddlers are usually Earlys, children are typically Earlys or Mids, and teens are frequently Lates. Adults tend to be Mids before turning Early or Chaotic as Seniors. But between roughly the ages of 21 and 65, you can’t change your type. You CAN, however, learn how to do the best you can with what you are.

Before getting into the schedule, let’s cover a few interesting things about each type.

Earlys don’t typically have trouble sleeping or waking. Their main improvement goal is to stretch their energy further into the day so they can enjoy the rest of the world for a little longer.

Main challenges: a bumpy adjustment and frustration at slow results.

Mids need at least 8 hours of sleep a night. They have an advantage, because most of the social world is set up for them already. They also have the longest ideal writing/editing time.

Main goals: get adequate sleep and exercise during the week, shift eating rhythms, increase energy in afternoons and evenings.

Main challenges: feeling trapped by a schedule, sleeping in/napping on the weekends, late-night snacking.

Lates frequently diagnose themselves as lazy or insomniacs, when in reality they simply have a different sleeping schedule. They have the second-longest ideal writing/editing time.

Main goals: improve efficiency during work hours, shift eating rhythms, increase sleep, stabilize mood swings.

Main challenges: rebelliousness (but biochronology is law of nature, not arbitrary rules), impatience, and impulsivity.

The smallest group, the Chaotics, are biologically backwards from the other three groups. For most people, cortisol goes up in the morning and temperature falls at night. The Chaotics are exactly the opposite, which explains many of their sleep problems. They also have brains that don’t turn off while sleeping, so they frequently don’t feel rested when they wake.

Main goals from a new schedule: increase energy in the morning, decrease evening anxiety for better sleep.

Main challenges: unrealistic expectations for 8 hours of sleep (a good 6 hours is realistic), and inconsistency.

I tried to predict some of your questions, like:

What if my optimal schedule isn’t practical in real life? Do the best you can. See if you can get any part of your schedule to align.

What if I don’t want to be tied to a schedule? Then don’t, but if you give it a try, you might find the improvements worth the changes.

What do you do if your life doesn’t allow you to write at the ideal time? First try to pick a closely related time (by function). Can you use your brainstorming or creative thinking time to write? Can you use your professional time to edit?

If not, is there a just-before or just-after your ideal time that would work with your brain and your schedule?

If neither of those will work, then you’re going to have to use the time you have available, even if it isn’t ideal. But don’t use your editing time to write, or vice versa! They are opposite functions, and your brain will protest.

What do you do if the important people in your life *cough your family* have different schedules from you? Can you compromise on a middling time, between the ideal for either of you? Can you compromise on what activities you do together or how you do them? For instance, a Late could sit & talk for an Early dinner, but actually eat later. Can you compromise on whose schedule rules for different activities? Maybe you could give a little on sleep time in exchange for some writing time, or vice versa.

And, of course, “But when is the right time to write?”

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