We spend a third of our lives asleep. No-one is really sure why we need sleep, many would say it is simply the body’s way of recuperating from the day’s activities but the fact is that even eight hours sleep saves just fifty calories. But it is a fact that sleep plays a vital role in brain development and maintenance; speech memory and innovative thinking are all affected by sleep. Anybody that has interrupted sleep patterns such as new mothers or shift workers know the joy of eight hours uninterrupted sleep, the sort you wake from feeling refreshed, invigorated and ready for the day. Most people I know don’t have that feeling and wake sluggish with heavy eyelids and wishing to crawl back under the duvet for another couple of hours.
Sleep deprivation affects people of all ages. A recent newspaper article reported that two thirds of British school children cannot concentrate at school because of lack of sleep. The researchers believe that the prevalence of computers and mobile phones in children’s bedrooms are primarily to blame for the sleep deprivation – partly because children stay awake using them, but also because looking at a screen before going to bed disrupts natural sleep patterns. Most adults also have televisions in their bedroom and probably a laptop. Is it any wonder so many complain of feeling tired all the time? Lack of sleep also has an adverse effect on our health. Insomnia doubles the risk of prostate cancer and can also be a cause or symptom of depression and can cause stress, high blood and obesity.With continued lack of sufficient sleep, the part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected, practically shutting down.
But some high achievers such as Napoleon, Margaret Thatcher, Florence Nightingale, Bill Clinton, Madonna and Leonardo Da Vinci are said to have managed on very little sleep, averaging four hours each night. One of Margaret Thatcher’s obituarists wrote, “Indefatigability became part of her mystique. She would keep her officials up working on a speech until two or three in the morning and then be up by five in time to listen to Farming Today.” I don’t really buy into this admiration for those who appear to manage on little sleep. Sleep-deprived individuals often have difficulty in responding to rapidly changing situations and making rational judgements (so that may explain some of the Iron Lady’s more questionable decisions.) In real life situations, the consequences can be serious or even tragic. Lack of sleep is said to have been be a contributory factor to a number of international disasters such as Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Challenger shuttle explosion. Not forgetting Gary Hart, who after staying up all night ‘talking’ to a woman on the internet, fell asleep at the wheel of his Land Rover which veered off the M62 and on to a railway track causing the Selby Rail crash in which ten people died.
So there are many reasons to enjoy a good night’s sleep whenever one can. Sleep is the best meditation.