One of life’s real pleasures is sleep, although for most its not until you have been through the ‘joys’ of parenting that you realise just how precious those 8 hours of slumber really are. Sleep can be overlooked as an inconvenience, getting in the way of our busy lives, interrupting schedules and quality time, we take it for granted and abuse our bodies by preventing what should come naturally.
As an infant you have no recollection and no control (it seems) of when you wake up and subsequently when you wake your parents up. According to research, new born baby’s sleep for 16 hours a day, reducing to 13 hours by the age of 3. I am not sure who investigates, researches and prints such tripe, but my experience suggests that babies don’t sleep - ever, and when they are awake they have some incomprehensible power to suck the energy from their parents with a force greater than that of a collapsing star!
I have suffered from mild insomnia and have therefore been used to only sleeping for 3-4 hours a day for months on end, however even this could not prepare me for the worst form of Nazi/Japanese 2nd World War prisoner of war torture, dished up by the cute bundle of love in the pink bunny suit! If you see a women or a man walking the street splattered in food, excrement, and puke, looking as if they haven’t slept for 6 weeks, with creased clothes, un-cut, uncombed hair, odd socks and grey lifeless skin – don’t worry its not an invasion of zombies its merely the result of having a baby in the family.
Things change as you grow from a baby / infant into a child, this is when your parents send you to bed when you’re wide awake, and wake you up when you’re in deep sleep – the value of sleep when your young is not necessarily recognised or appreciated. Sleep gets in the way of fun, in the way of playing with friends, riding your bike, building dens and generally enjoying life. The fact that your parents pull you out of bed with a full 5 minutes before school starts amazes most kids, as does the need to shout the time every 30 seconds just in case you never heard the 120 decibel scream the first 18 times. I do remember being a child’s (honest), and I do remember being pulled out of bed by my toenails as my parents tried to extract me from the pit of foul teenage smells. With the resurgence in vampire movies this has become even harder, my son is only 12 and thinks he is one of the Nosferatu, staying up so late we pass on the stairs – me off to work, him off to bed.
As you get older and enter your late teens, sleep is only essential for recovery from hangovers, relationship disasters, and other activities that will endanger my ‘child safe’ website status. Previously the role of university dorms, bed sits and flat shares, it has moved more mainstream family homes, as more and more ‘young adults’ stay home festering and leaching on their parents goodwill rather than risk spending a Saturday nights money on rent or mortgage repayments. Acceptable and almost expected behaviour in your own (or shared) abode is becoming the norm in family households. Including the half naked friends wandering around at all times, the drive festooned with all sorts of scrap iron dressed in spoilers and GTI badges alongside the ‘man’ of the houses Volvo, watching your utility bills treble despite spending more time away from home, and resigning yourself to the fact that you will never find any food in the cupboard despite spending the entire Royal Navy’s canteen budget each week. The dream of repossessing your home, your bed and most importantly some sleep, like the dreams of retirement have to be shelved and put back to a point where they cross and happen sometime after death.
As you hit middle age, you find that sleep is addictive, although somewhat untouchable. I crave for 8 hours deep sleep, and then find myself guilty after only 6. Panic sets in that you are being selfish and ‘sleeping’ your life away. I get out of bed at 6.00am every weekday morning, weekend, bank holiday even whilst on vacation it takes about the same amount of time for me to start to relax, as it does for the early morning start to catch the plane back. Your body becomes conditioned to rising early, and if my father is anything to go by, I have another 20-30 years of this. That is not to say you don’t grab a sly afternoon snooze once in a while, my favourite is to snuggle down on a winters Sunday afternoon following a large lunch and a copy of Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean on the TV – both instant insomnia cures, not that they are bad films, just that my ability to watch a film longer than 36 seconds without snoring is legendary.
As all of my anecdotes and stories recount my times in China, it would be wrong of me to ignore one story that links in with this blog quite well. I remember travelling with a group of senior Chinese colleagues between Nanjing and Beijing, accompanied by my trusty assistant, translator and friend (Hu Jin), we boarded the plane, took our seats and were being served noodles for breakfast before you could say “why is everyone wearing 15 layers of clothes, and asking for the cabin temperature to be increased”. Soon after breakfast the rest of my colleagues (about 8 people in all) kept their tray tables down and proceeded to lean forward and rest their heads on the trays falling to sleep soon after. I had seen this many times before in China, on planes, trains and automobile journeys. It seemed that in every possible circumstance the Chinese would take the opportunity to rest their eyes and recharge their battery’s. I put this down to a harsh life and poor diet, rather than just being lazy. What I was surprised at was my assistant’s insistence that I do likewise and sleep for the next 30 to 40 minutes despite not being tired, when asking why? I was told that taking ‘dead’ time out to sleep shows that you are being efficient with the company’s time, and that you must be working very hard at other times to need the rest. I just continued to pick the weevils out of the bread roll served with the noodles.
I can t really finish my journey of sleep through life by talking about how sleep affects you in old’er age, as I haven’t quite reached it yet. However If I read the most recent research into sleep from the University’s of Warwick and Naples I will get all the sleep I need soon. The research conducted across Europe, Asia and the US suggests that people sleeping less than 6 hours per day are 12% more likely to suffer from premature death. Looks like I had better get my head down!