I am a lucky dad! Every single day I wake to the gentle sounds of nature, having enjoyed a blissful uninterrupted 8-hour stretch of dreamless guilt-free slumber. Thus refreshed, I spring out of bed, wave a yogic greeting to the sun, and limber up for my energising exercise hour.
The truth is much bleaker. Each morning for the past few weeks I’ve been woken at 4.30am by a kick to the head from my 4-year old, who is upside-down in the bed beside me. How she gets there no-one knows, but she’s there all right. And I spend what remains of the night in a jittery state of anxious wakefulness, in case she does it again.
She doesn’t kick me on purpose, of course, because she’s fast asleep! The little monkey.
It happened again today, which is why I started writing this blog at 6.30 in the morning, having been awake since about 5. Here’s the guilty party (not the teddy – the girl):
My other daughter, who is 7, sleeps much better. Here’s proof – and I used a flash!
So I’m tired today, but I believe this to be fairly normal, in my social group, anyway. I spoke to three other parents just this morning about sleep, and it turns out that not one of them has had enough of it. They all have a different story to tell, but fundamentally it comes down to a combination of:
- being too busy;
- going to bed too late;
- not having a routine; and
- having kids.
These symptoms of life all apply to me, so one of my resolutions this year is to sort myself out, sleep-wise. I know it’s possible, and I can certainly control three of these variables – although I can’t remove my daughters from the equation, tempting though it sometimes is.
Because when I sleep badly, I pay the price the next day – and so does everyone else! I crave full English breakfasts, I do no exercise, I’m grumpier than usual, and my gut bacteria make it more likely that I’ll gain weight. Plus, I look like a cave man.
By contrast – after a full 8 hours, I eat like a god, I am more likely to exercise, my conversation sparkles, and strangers stop me in the street in the mistaken but understandable belief that I starred in the film ‘Ocean’s Eleven’.
So why don’t I – and we – prioritise sleep more, and is it doing us any actual harm? I was keen to find out, so last week I bought a book on the subject. I’m only on chapter 3, but it’s an eye-opener already – quite literally!
For example: did you know that there is a very rare genetic disorder called fatal familial insomnia that leads to inevitable death after 12-18 months of literally no proper sleep? (Don’t worry – you can’t catch this.) Also – were you aware that the body’s natural circadian rhythm actually lasts longer than 24 hours? This is partly why it’s easier to recover from jet lag if you’re flying west.
Interesting anecdotes aside, the overall message of this book is that a lack of sleep is definitely doing us harm, in lots of different ways. The author believes that sleep is more important for our health than diet or exercise, and most of us don’t get enough. I can well believe this!
So – what next?
I know what you’re thinking – what am I going to do about it?
Good question. Well, for a start, I’m going to get a bedtime routine in place, involving cocoa, not looking at any screens after 9pm, and making my 4-year old read this blog every evening in the hope that she’ll eventually see the error of her ways.
Obviously I can’t do any of this tonight, because it’s the weekend. Also – I haven’t finished the book yet, so there might be a twist in the tale later on. Plus – my 4-year-old can’t read, and doesn’t listen to a word I say.
Never mind – there’s always tomorrow!
Feel free to let me know if you have any tips for a good night’s sleep. All suggestions welcome!