As an army of white collar workers re-locate to their living room in the wake of coronavirus, many among them may re-discover the value of an extra hour or two in bed. I don’t think this is a bad thing; in fact, it could mean a shift away from our fetish for sleep deprivation.
I have always slept well. Don’t be jealous, it’s just who I am. As a child, I slept through massive thunderstorms. My friends once had to slap me awake at a sleepover. (They said I looked pale and peaceful, like a corpse, and they were worried.) In my first reporting job, when I was out several nights a week, I coined a term for my paranoia – Fear of Missing Out On Eight Hours’ Sleep (or FOMOO8HS). Unlike ‘Netflix and chill’, it didn’t catch on.
In recent years we have done a good job at raising awareness and reducing stigma on everything from burn-out culture to work-life balance and mental health. Yet there is a weird cloak of shame around sleep. Sleep is for children, for teenagers, for older people, for people who are ill, or lazy, or depressed, or for those who are always late for work. When I told my friend’s brother-in-law, a corporate lawyer with a young child, that I was a freelancer, the first thing he asked me was, “What time do you normally get up?” He looked horrified when I told him 8am. If he knew the truth, his eyes might have popped out of his head.
A good night’s rest is still seen as an indulgence. We talk about bedside manners and books, the firmness of our mattress, but rarely in our culture do we celebrate an adult’s ability to sleep as well as they did as when they were a teenager. In this manic world of 24/7 news and virus mania, getting a solid eight hours is an achievement — as well as an incredible privilege.
“A good night’s rest is still seen as an indulgence”
Perhaps the problem is that our idea of success is defined – and designed – by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who might as well be telling us to ‘sleep when we are dead’. We are inundated with articles about successful people’s morning routines – celebrities and billionaires who wake in the small hours and squeeze every minute from their day. Eight hours of sleep is never going to wash with people who invent pills instead of food because they ‘don’t have time’ to eat.
In an article about ‘life hacks’ for Wired, Michael Affronti, a senior vice president at business communications company Fuze, says he has risen at 4.22am every day for the past 15 years. He is far from alone. And just a few months ago, Silicon Valley came up with ‘dopamine fasting’, a trend which involves spending time without phones, TVs and podcasts – to avoid being overly stimulated and reset the brain.
Wouldn’t a nap do the trick?
Little has changed since the late 1970s, it seems, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, claiming she only got four hours’ sleep a night. Incidentally, this period was also a pretty bad time for our nation’s productivity.
Without sleep, my world becomes dystopian and hellish. I break my one-a-day coffee rule, I become listless, my concentration even more fleeting and superficial. What I don’t need at that point is a blueberry and superfood powder smoothie, or to spend five minutes in a meditation pod. I just need a good night’s kip.
So, on World Sleep Day, this is my ode to the unconscious night. Savour the gentle heaviness that weighs on your eyelids, when the book you’re reading slips from your hand. The sheet is pulled up to your chin, and you are warm and cosy. You know sleep is coming, and it feels wonderful.
I am not too busy, or too important, or too successful for sleep. My sleep doesn’t say anything negative about me. It’s a reward, and an immune booster, for a relentless life.