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Friday, January 04, 2008

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz top

The Last Word column from Day and Night in today's Irish Independent

It's that little 's' word that we think about every hour of the day. Most of us believe we're not having enough of it, and as soon as you get some, all you can think about is how to get more. Many of us will do it anywhere, anytime, for as long as we can. We invest huge amounts of time and energy in finding ways of making it better, more pleasurable and rewarding. You can bet that millions, maybe billions, of people somewhere are doing it as we speak.

So answer me this: are you satisfied with your sleep life? I know I’m not. I’m admitting here now that I’m sleepily frustrated. Christmas time is the period when a lot of us make exhaustive plans to catch up on our sleep, and indeed such plans seemed to mark the highlight of the season for many people I know. One friend of mine had nine days off, and he boasted that he slept 11 hours every night over the period.

I think I can honestly say that I haven’t slept 11 hours straight since I wore nappies and drank pre-sugar-free Ribena from a bottle until all my rotted baby teeth had to be removed (and yes, I’m referring to being a baby for all you smart alecs who are thinking, ‘Oh, so it was last week?’).

On any given night, at any time of the year, regardless of whether I’m working or on holidays, the maximum amount of sleep I get is 5-6 hours. The experts (Snoozologists? Sleepchiatrists?) are always telling us that we need a minimum of 8 hours every night in order to stay healthy. Even a 10 second customary Google search of the word ‘sleep’ will return around 7 billion articles informing you about how lack of sleep can detrimentally affect your work life, sex life, coronary and psychological health, weight, exam performance, memory and attention span. Suddenly it all makes so much sense. Now, where was I?

I don’t think I’m an insomniac, because it’s not as if I can’t sleep at all. I’m just incredibly restless. Quite frankly, sleep bores me a lot of the time. Plus I’m a light sleeper – a butterfly farting in Azerbaijan will wake me up. For these reasons, I can’t do lie-ins either, even at weekends. They make me feel guilty, like I’m not carpe-ing the diem enough and enriching my life (as if getting up to watch the Hollyoaks omnibus instead does that).

I’m really envious of all those people who can just switch off at night, and clear their minds enough to get a good rest. My affliction seems to be that I only seem to start thinking about everything the minute I lay my head on the pillow, which probably goes some way to explain why people – loved ones mainly – call me dozy when they’re talking to me during the day.

And I know going over everything that happened that day, or fretting about what has to be done the next day is the big bedroom taboo (now, now, this is a family newspaper). This, in turn, sends my mind into overdrive as I try to find ways to relax, which then makes me even more awake. And I have tried every trick, potion, scent, candle, cream, pill, voodoo curse, and dance known to man in my bid to get more sleep, all to no avail.

Luckily, I think I’ve gotten used to functioning adequately with this deeply inadequate sleep pattern. And I’m going to stop comparing myself to others. Because we all know that the ones who brag the most about how much sleep they’re getting are normally the ones who aren’t getting any.


Kriselten said...

Did you know that a sleep cycle is only one and a half hours long - i.e. it takes an hour and a half to complete the 4 stages of sleep (that's where it gets medical). In layman's terms, though, the amount of sleep you should be getting should be divisible by 1.5. Which is why we're advised to get 6 hours, 7.5 hours, or 9 hours of sleep. If you get any in between, like if you get 8 hours of sleep, you wake up with an incomplete cycle of sleep, having woken up in the middle of a cycle, which is why sometimes you wake up after 8 hours, and you feel tired, or sometimes you wake up and you feel refreshed after 4.5 hours... Am I talking rubbish here? I kinda figured it was interesting when I read it - try it out sometime.

Declan Cashin said...

Wow, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks!