You're not getting enough sleep | Jack Marshall's column

Ronald Reagan with Margaret Thatcher (credit PA Wire)Ronald Reagan with Margaret Thatcher (credit PA Wire)
Ronald Reagan with Margaret Thatcher (credit PA Wire)
Famously, Margaret Thatcher only got four hours’ sleep a night, supposedly summoning sufficient energy during those meager 240 minutes to fuel her efforts in one of the most stressful jobs imaginable. If that sounds implausible it’s because it is: Maggie should have gotten more shut-eye.

Sleep is one of those things people are weirdly proud of not getting a lot of. “Oh, I barely slept last night and yet here I am in work four hours early because I wasn’t sleeping and I probably won’t sleep tonight because I’ve so much work to do and I’m such a good and productive cog in the machine.”

There’s no pride in not getting enough sleep, it’s silly. Sleep is a wonder-drug; it regenerates humans like nothing else can. It refreshes the brain and rests the body. It commits things to memory and heals just about everything. Yet people boast about not getting a lot of it.

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Much like his counterpart across the pond, President Ronald Reagan claimed he only needed five hours a night and, until recently, The White House was again occupied by another sleep-denier: the land of nod could only wrench the wretched Donald Trump away from his vile Twitter feed for a few hours at a time, apparently.

Now, this isn’t to suggest some kind of demonic correlation between a lack of sleep and being generally unpleasant. But, according to sleep expert and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the UCal Berkeley Matthew Walker, there’s a direct correlation between sleep volume and life expectancy.

This is a notion which has stayed with me in the three years since I read Walker’s book ‘Why We Sleep’. I used to be a light sleeper - six hours tops. I’d brag about this as if it was something to be proud of. ‘Check me out, operating on fewer hours of miracle-sleep-drug than you. Haha, you idiot.’

Then I stopped being silly and realised being tired isn’t weakness, it’s the most visceral manifestation of your being saying ‘mate, find some grass to lie down in’.

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Perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time Roger Federer once said it’s ‘just not right’ if he doesn’t get 11 or 12 hours a night. Basketball player LeBron James aims for similar figures.

Usain Bolt claims sleep is one of the secrets to his astonishing success and has even been found napping before record-breaking runs.

Sleep is great. Sleep is natural. Sleep is fulfilling and necessary. Get more of it.

After all, people who say ‘plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead’ never tend to live as long as folks who nap.