Elephants do it standing up, while humans spend a third of their lives at it. Margaret Thatcher got by on four hours a night, but Thomas Edison claimed it was waste of time. I’m talking about sleep, that sure sign of caffeine deprivation. I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately – except when the alarm’s about to go off – and tiredness is making it hard to write. So what better to write about than sleep? It might do the trick, like a sort of sympathetic magic.
Benjamin Franklin said “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Fine if you’re a morning person, but apparently each of us has a genetically programmed biological clock preference so there’s nothing you can do if you prefer to get up later. Whenever you get round to doing it, if you still find it hard to keep your eyes open without the aid of matchsticks you’re not alone. Here in Great Britain, the average person goes to bed an hour later than they did three years ago, according to research, which blames money worries, long working hours and busy lifestyles for keeping us up longer.
Others say that fewer than six hours’ sleep increases the risk of dying early, and that five hours isn’t enough for most people, regardless of what Mrs Thatcher did. Daytime drowsiness increases your risk of having an accident if you drive or operate dangerous machinery. But you can’t win – there’s also claimed to be an association between sleeping more than nine hours a night and premature death, probably because long sleeping can be a marker of serious underlying illness.
Babies sometimes sleep with their eyes open, and it’s scary the first time you see it. Nobody knows why they do it, and they grow out of it. I don’t know why people talk about sleeping like a baby as though that was a good thing – waking up every few hours and screaming? Someone has worked out that having a new baby typically results in up to 750 hours lost sleep for parents in the first year. That adds up to over 31 days but, despite what today’s long-suffering parents might think, the current world record for the longest period without sleep has stood unbeaten since 1964. It stands at 11 days, and was set by a 17 year old American high school student, who began hallucinating that he was a famous footballer. Could this explain why many of today’s footballers seem to act like they’re sleepwalking?
What sleep researchers all seem to agree on is that the amount of sleep we actually need is whatever it takes not to be sleepy in the daytime. James Thurber said: “Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead”, and this female is going to hit that snooze button and give herself an extra 10 minutes. Perhaps I’ll have a dream that I can turn into a story. So if you find yourself reading one about a woman giving a speech who looks down and screams as she realises she’s wearing nothing but a top hat, you’ll know who wrote it.