Sleeping murder

Being ‘dead to the world’ — aka, getting sound sleep

By Sushmita Bose - Editor, Wknd (FREEWHEELING)

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Published: Sat 14 Mar 2015, 10:12 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 11:18 PM

My father always told me — when, as a schoolgirl, I used to complain bitterly about having to wake up at the crack of dawn, not getting enough sleep etc etc — that we, homo sapiens, imbued with the power of advanced thought processes (thereby making us the most evolved of all living species), should realise that we spend more than one-third of our lives sleeping. When I was 10 years old, I couldn’t care less. Now I do. It kind of knocks things into perspective. If you were to ask a dying 90-year-old man, “Would you like 30 years of your life back — to be awake fully and live?” what do you think he’d say? Yes? Yes, I think so too.

But the problem is: sleep is required. Those wasted hours when we switch ourselves off from the world around us (ever heard the phrase ‘dead to the world’?) are actually part of our breathing lives. Lack of it, I am told by various health reports that come out almost on a daily basis, may give you a cardiac arrest, diabetes… or something equally dreadful that can reduce your (otherwise robust?) life span. Now, how counterintuitive is that? You spend a lifetime trying to sleep less, live more, and then find out it’s not worth it because you are actually living less, according to the final profit and loss ledger.

In my quest to ensure that I am not beset by grievances by the time I am 90 and readying myself for the Big Sleep, I’ve been grappling with the subject of sleep. So how much sleep do I need? Yes, 8 hours a day is the alleged ballpark, but you know how everyone believed the world was flat when it wasn’t? Why is it that heads of state barely sleep (it can’t be all image management) and seem to be doing fine? Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for instance, says he sleeps 3 to 4 hours every night — when his doctors have advised him to sleep for 5 hours. Why haven’t they advised him to sleep 8 hours — that the National Sleep Foundation in the US is tom-tomming as the magic figure?

It’s safe to say sleep is no longer a resting zone. It’s trending. I’m fascinated by back-to-back studies that come out: ‘How much sleep do you need?’, followed by, ‘How much sleep do you really need?’ How much longer before ‘How much sleep do you really, really need?’?

Then there’s the curious phenomenon of the sleep debt. If I am sleeping less than my required hours, I can stash away those waking hours into a sleepy account; and I can redeem the hours by sleeping more the following night… or the weekend perhaps? Sleep debts are being mapped, large amounts of money are being spent to dig deeper into the debts.

In hospitality, sleep has become the raison d’etre because, increasingly, everyone is cottoning on to a wakeful reality: a good night’s sleep, not the room service menu, is pretty much what most travellers need as a buffer between business calls and leisurely jaunts (at times, leisure — that compulsive streak to check out the sum of the parts of a ‘holiday spot’ — can be most tiring and, therefore, sleep-inducing).

Insomnia is suddenly a lifestyle disease. Treating it and formulating new sleep patterns is big business now. When I watched Insomnia on DVD recently, I wanted to send Al Pacino to a sleep clinic pronto; I felt like sleeping myself as he played the role of the insomniac who had never been sleepier but still couldn’t get the shut-eye — the eye-rubbing rub-off effect that spooks you when a truly great performance is being turned out.

I’m fascinated when I spot sleep pods at airports, so I try and get a good look at those who fancy catching a catnap amid terminal madness. And an HR head I spoke to a few years ago was telling me his company encourages employees to pop into the ‘den’ once in a while and have a little snooze on the comfy couch. “Really energises them, ups productivity,” he beamed.

So how much sleep do I really need? I think I’ll just sleep on it.


Sushmita Bose is Khaleej Times’ features editor and editor of wknd. magazine

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