Over the course of time columnists on this organ possessed of far greater intellect and sensibility than mine have referenced and/or mocked the internet phenomenon of endless media reports detailing the latest academic research surveys or findings that seemingly ‘prove’ (or the opposite) some or all previous generally-held and sometimes contradictory theories about all aspects of life as it is – or should be – lived.
That being acknowledged, I now move tentatively towards my post today upon the subject of my personal sleep pattern which, as my regular readers will know, has been somewhat idiosyncratic for as far back as my memory goes – a statement which does not quite do justice to the actualité, in the sense that (being of a certain age) I am conscious that my short-term recall becomes daily less reliable whilst my ability to remember events etc. of thirty and more years ago remains reasonably robust.
All my life I have been an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ type. This could be because my genes and/or DNA have bequeathed me a body-clock that is particularly responsive to light and darkness (or indeed day and night), thus explaining both my automatic ‘early to bed’ need/practice to retire of an evening when the light fades and my ‘early to rise’ equivalent in the morning at dawn – and, come to think of it, my slight propensity to sleep for longer in wintertime than I do in the summer months.
Separately, it may just be that my mind – perhaps uniquely and/or because it is subject to my peculiar personality quirks – tends to operate in a mode which is either switched to “full steam ahead” or “off”.
In other words, broadly-speaking, I’m either awake and actively doing things or else conked out and comatose. This contrasts with some – dare I say lucky? – people in the public eye, or personally known to me, who seemingly possess the facility to proceed through life in a state of constant reflective laidback calm and serenity irrespective of whether the tide of events at any particular time is quiet and relaxed or (alternatively) frenetic, thrillingly-exciting or even life-threatening.
Whether it comes of self-awareness or bitter experience, in life we all learn to cope with how our body works.
There was a stage in my life – roughly between the ages of about 45 and 55 – when (dear reader, please don’t laugh) when, as far I could tell by either chance or coincidence, I regularly awoke at 5.24am every day without fail. I mean, genuinely and on the dot. I’d “come to” of a morning, look across at my bedside digital clock and its red lettering would be proclaiming “0524”. Every day. I couldn’t explain it, but there it was, a fact of my life.
Later – and right through to the current day – I moved to a routine where I go to bed every evening at some point between 7.30pm and 9.00pm and then wake again, usually at some point between 11.30pm and 2.00am, to begin my next day’s day-shift.
This has two consequences upon my lifestyle.
The first is that – no matter the importance or desirability of an event (whether e.g. a “live” sporting contest being televised, a family-or-friend’s anniversary, post-marriage shindig or Christmas party, or simply an informal invitation to a drink, dinner party or other social engagement) – I tend to shy away from evening invitations for the simple reason that, whether they will end at 10.00pm, midnight or even later, on top of which (if it is an “away” fixture) it’s going to take me some time to get home and to my bed, I know that I’m going to be getting up again at about 2.30am anyway.
In which circumstances, to be perfectly blunt, I’d rather decline the invitation and go to bed at 8.00pm as per usual – thank you very much.
The second is that – inevitably, having risen every morning in the wee hours and by 7.00am (when my local newsagent opens and I collect my daily papers, and then make early morning tea and later my breakfast – by the time the rest of the world surfaces I have already been up for anywhere between 5 and 7 hours.
Which leaves me with an identifiable sleep deficit of 2 to 3 hours and maybe more. Which is why I habitually retire to my bedroom in either the late morning or mid-afternoon for a nap whose duration may vary from 30 up to 120 minutes, depending upon what my body-clock decides.
Sometimes, partly because others mockingly attribute this to me, I put it down to me being the age that I am (67).
Alternatively – and I certainly subscribe to this view myself – it could be that I’ve simply learned over time to listen to my body-clock. To be facile about it: when I’m up and about, feeling wide-awake and active, I do things … and when I feel tired, I sleep. What’s wrong with that?
Of course, I sometimes get offhand snide comments made directly to me (or behind my back to others) along the lines “What on earth’s the matter with him? He doesn’t work, he does ‘bugger-all’ all day and then after lunch he has to retire and go to sleep …”
The blunt response to some of them would be “No, you sleep for 10 hours or more every night and then spend your waking hours sitting in an arm chair doing nothing. What you cannot seem to understand is that – by the time you appear after breakfast – I’ve already been up and about for anything up to 7 or 8 hours!”
Which brings me to this, a report by medical correspondent Ben Spencer as appears today upon the website of the – DAILY MAIL