With neither of my children expected home before six this evening, and not a single item on my agenda for today I am presented with an entire day all to myself. That kind of luxury doesn’t fall in my lap often so how to spend this glorious day? I could use the time to catch up on my reading (I’ve got a shelf full of books that need to be read by the end of November). I could pop down to the gym and do a much-needed workout, something I’ve not managed for at least six months. Or I could use this time to get cracking on my next writing project. Come to think of it I have enough time on my hands to do all of these things today.
So how have I spent my day thus far? Sleeping of course, as those who know me best will already have guessed. It’s been many years since I could manage on less than six hours of sleep without sacrificing my sanity. Age, a history of ill health, an unfortunate tendency to wake up at 4 am for a loo visit, and two daughters with hot temperaments and clashing wills, leave me feeling depleted before the end of the day. It also means I absolutely must have seven hours of shuteye and a daily nap, or I’ll become intolerably grumpy, if not outright aggressive. Just ask my family.
Francesca Martinez, my comedic heroine, also likes to sleep a lot. She even suggests that if people had more sleep, there would be less trouble in the world. Just look at Margaret Thatcher who reportedly slept only four hours a night while prime minister. Says Martinez, “Maybe that was why her politics were so inhumane – she was just cranky all the time. Perhaps right-wingers would be more empathetic if they spent more of their lives asleep.” Given that Donald Trump boasts of sleeping as little as 4-5 hours a night since becoming president, I think Martinez is definitely on to something.
Recent studies on sleep also confirm what some of us have suspected for a long time: lack of sleep poses a real threat to our long-term health. It undermines our immune system and leaves us at much higher risk of heart disease, cognitive impairment, depression and anxiety and much more. Not only did Margaret Thatcher’s restrictive sleep routine leave her grumpy and bellicose, according to sleep scientist Matthew Walker lack of sleep has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, of which Thatcher suffered. “Sleep alone will not be the magic bullet that eradicates dementia,” Walker admits, but “prioritising sleep across the lifespan is clearly becoming a significant factor for lowering Alzheimer’s disease risk.”
Until a few years ago I still managed to push through with my daily obligations in spite of an almost debilitating lack of sleep, but since recovering from acute pulmonary embolism in 2015, I’m just not capable of that. My body will decidedly prevent me from any meaningful physical and mental activity unless I’ve had at least seven hours’ sleep. After decades of ignoring a multitude of warning signals coming my way, I’ve finally learnt to listen to my body. When in need of sleep, I sleep. In doing so, not only am I looking after my health, I’m also contributing to world peace.