Hello sleepyhead!

Once upon a time, I read my horoscope: Others are in awe of how much you manage to do. She laughs – out loud.

Writing this, it was 1.06 am. The previous day, I woke at 4 am. I rolled over and dropped back into a light sleep. Then, by 4.30, the sky was turning bright; I was woken by a combined orchestra/choir of cacophonic, raucous birdsong. The wood pigeons were a tad unruly, but to be honest, hearing the birds singing always wakes me with a zing … so I could no sooner return to sleep than fly on a trapeze.

Sometimes, the sounds are less pleasant: wildlife slaughtering each other, for example, or the recycling lorry; the end result, however, is the same. Zing!

Wakey, wakey!

Why do you only need 5 hours, sleep?

The answer is, I do not know, but I have never been any different. An apparently awful, manipulatively wakeful baby, I recall waking up easily for school, university, work, and at one stage not so many years ago, a 6.30 am daily swim at the gym before getting the kids to school and commencing a 12-hour stint working in higher education. I don’t think of myself as having insomnia unless I actually toss and turn all night, but waking early seems to be considered a problem for some people. 

You need to rest, relax …

I do?

Or so people say; maybe, but where does that get me? How do I achieve anything by lying in bed, even if awake? Still, it’s great that so many people understand my needs.

Insomnia is labelled as a ‘disorder’ and certainly, after a length of time without adequate sleep, it probably becomes one. However, to someone like me, sleeping 10 hours a day is a ‘disorder’. Sleeping most of the day away is a ‘disorder’. Festering in bed with no real reason is a ‘disorder’. Sleeping in the afternoon is a ‘disorder’. My mother spent her life doing it – and that is probably, quite simply, why I don’t. I associate sleep with clinical depression. 

Bill Clinton reckoned he didn’t get enough sleep and made his worst decisions when his sleep quotient was low – Monica Lewinsky, perhaps?

Certainly, when sleep is constantly interrupted by others, it is definitely a problem, as anyone living with a heavy snorer will testify.

However, ‘self-generated’ insomnia is not a disease, though it may be a symptom of one. Generally, though, it is wrongly problematised.

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Various hypotheses abound. One notion is that poor sleepers over-rate their own importance … ah, so that’s it!

Insomnia is a variant of Tourette’s–the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod. The insomniac brain is a sort of conspiracy theorist as well, believing too much in its own paranoiac importance–as though if it were to blink, then doze, the world might be overrun by some encroaching calamity, which its obsessive musings are somehow fending off.

–Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn

We might turn that label around and identify insomnia as a positive.

How can you pack more into a day? Well, get up earlier is actually one solution, but to do it, you need good quality sleep. My day starts some hours before most other people’s but the sleep I normally have is solid and sound.

Margaret Thatcher was said to have needed little sleep (four hours a night; I need more, probably five or even six) yet she achieved a great deal (leaving aside her questionable politics) and many other great thinkers – not that I am one – were insomniacs too. Thinking actively involves losing sleep.

Sleep may, of course, be induced by the temporary brain death of alcohol or the lulled boredom of reality television, or the chemical imbalance of sleeping pills, but that doesn’t feel aspirational. Do I wish to be dulled, simply to sleep?

I think insomnia is a sign that a person is interesting. – Avery Sawyer, Notes to Self

The answer is maybe to work with it rather than perceive it as harmful and trying to treat it. For example, when we start relying on drugs to calm it, the issue exacerbates (sleeping pill overdoses killed Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland).

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According to the London Sleep Centre, I am an insomniac because I wake up too early in the morning. That said, I generally wake not tired and sleepy, but energetic. I was born at dawn and maybe that happened for a reason. Maybe it is my time.

Sleep comes more easily than it returns. – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Do women sleep less than men? On average, it seems not. We perhaps have poorer sleep. I have blamed my sleep ‘deficiency’ on years of having babies and breastfeeding but, if I’m honest, I didn’t sleep much from a very early age.

While my late brother would roll out of bed groaning, awaiting the breakfast prepared by my father who also slept little yet was brimful with energy, I would be up and at ‘em early on from an early age. It has always been my most productive time. Yet, reports suggest that night owls are wiser and wealthier than larks. They are more creative, inductive, better at lateral thinking, and less logical. Larks like me are more likely to be the dull accountants of life (yeah, right!)

So, I’ll let that little ray of sunshine, Leonard Cohen, have the last word….because he may just be right.

The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world. – Leonard Cohen

Thanks, Len, and now for the ‘Government’ health warning.

Yes, of course, if you can’t sleep, and feel lousy with it, then go and see a doctor because you may be ill … you know it makes sense!

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