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Why I'm Having the Last Laugh on People Who Sleep Shame Me

05/04/2016 15:10 | Updated 05 April 2016

One of my many nicknames is 'grandma' - a playful dig at the high priority I give my sleep, and the things I sacrifice in order to be well rested.

I come from pedigree sleep stock - somehow, despite working long hours as a surgeon and GP, my 68-year-old father has managed a nap almost every single day of his life since he was 18 - and so perhaps I was given an unfair advantage.

But during my 20s I certainly didn't follow my dad's sleep regime; I went out till dawn, drank enough alcohol to fill several boots and somehow ploughed through long work hours propped up on caffeine and rubbish food.

None of this was helped by the culture we have in the western world where if you party hard and work hard, you are considered to be a champion. And if you manage to do both and subsist on as little sleep as possible, then you're an absolute legend.

What I've realised is this is actually utter nonsense.

Like eating and breathing, sleep is a necessity for your body, yet we don't give it the same importance. It's an afterthought - something we try and sandwich in if we have the time.

We constantly try and bargain with the amount of sleep we have, when the bottom line is that you can't bargain with your body.

In the most simplistic sense, your body is a machine; it needs sleep to repair itself and so it only works as well as the time and effort you spend looking after it.

If you regularly under-sleep or don't have good sleep hygiene, the impact it has on your susceptibility to disease, your memory and concentration, as well as your longevity of life is immense.

It's not a surprise that the people I know who fall sick the most often, are also the ones who don't have great sleep habits.

"You can sleep when you're dead," a friend of mine once said, and I later realised that if she kept burning the candle at both ends as she had done all her life, that would happen to her sooner than she'd like it to.

Why do we persist in this ridiculous idea that existing on as little sleep as possible means you're somehow tougher or more resilient?

It's not as if we have overwhelming anecdotal evidence from people who subsist on too little sleep who say it is amazing. After all, who has ever said: "I only slept for four hours, I feel fantastic"?

Although I initially got defensive when that nickname started to surface, what I realised is: Grandma is having the last laugh, people.

The definition of dysfunction is doing something over and over again that doesn't work for you, and being tired just doesn't work for me. And honestly, is it actually working for you?

I realised I was fed up with clinging to my sofa like a raft on the weekend, wishing I had the energy to do all of the things I wanted. And I was definitely fed up with feeling like I was on the brink of work overwhelming me all the time.

In fact, it's not a coincidence that since practicing good sleep, I've had some of the biggest successes of my career to date, I have plenty of energy to go to the gym which means I have a body I actually like, and I've got time to do one of the things that gives me most happiness - creative writing.

In short, I'm not living my life on autopilot, which is what happens when you're too tired to make decisions beyond eat, sleep, repeat.

And sleep is a practice.

We expect it to occur as naturally as breathing, but considering how overloaded our days are with information and technology, the journey to sleep needs to be a ritual and definitely needs to take priority (at times) over social engagements.

It doesn't even need to be that complicated. My advice is to invest in a good bed, actually set yourself a bedtime, stop using your tech about an hour before, read a book or a magazine and try to get a minimum of 7 - 8 hours.

Whenever I forget this, and I think I know better, it takes one bad night of sleep to remind me how much of an effect it has on my day-to-day.

Am I a grandma because I won't stay out with you until 3am and will screen you if you call me after 9pm? Absolutely.

But that's the great thing about being well rested - you've got bigger and better things to be getting on with than caring about what the sleep-deprived herd has to say about it.

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