LOUISE O'NEILL: As a nation we are becoming more and more sleep deprived

As I have mentioned in this column before, I’ve commandeered one of the spare bedrooms in my parents’ house as my writing room.

In the beginning of my career, those halcyon days from, oh, five years ago or so, I at least pretended that said room could be used by guests if needs be. We have now given up that pretence and as the array of writing paraphernalia continues to expand — computer, desk, ergodynamic chair, dictionaries, reference books, printer, shredder, Himalayan salt lamp — my father suggested that we remove the bed to make it less claustrophobic. I dismissed this idea, telling my parents that I was going to move out very, very soon (a lie), and that I didn’t want to cause them any more hassle (another lie).

Me: What if you have a huge influx of guests and suddenly need an extra bed? I’d hate if someone had to sleep on the couch.

Mom: But you haven’t allowed anyone to even walk inside that room for at least...

Me: ANYway, let’s leave the bed there, ok?

The truth is that I don’t want to lose the bed in my writing room because I am a secret taker of many, many naps and I don’t want that to be taken away from me. Well, I say secret, but anyone who follows me on Snapchat will be familiar with my rosy-cheeked, post nap face, ranting about my dream in which the Hanson brothers wouldn’t let me join the band because I refused to dye my hair blonde. (Yes, I am still bitter.)

My Snapchat goes a long way to combat the glossy impression created by some of my other social media accounts that I lead a terribly glamourous life of embassy receptions and partying on yachts with Hollywood stars. Full disclosure — I spend most of my time in front of my laptop wearing a bear dressing gown, staring longingly at the bed beside me and wondering when Nap Time can begin.

A part of my love/need for siestas throughout the day — my preferred schedule would allow for two 10 to 15 minute naps in the mid morning and afternoon — is due to the fact I awake early. I don’t set an alarm but I’m usually up and out of bed by 5am, 5.30 at the very latest.

And while I’m not working down a mine or saving lives, writing can be mentally draining. This is particularly true if I’m at the beginning of a project and still working out the finer details of plot and characters or if I’m grappling with an especially emotional scene. I am currently editing my third novel while simultaneously writing my fourth, something I have never attempted before, and taking a short sleep in between each project serves as an effective palate cleanser thus I would argue that a bed in my writing room is an essential tool for career longevity. (Please send all hate mail c/o the Irish Examiner.)

I think it’s a habit I have inherited from my father, a man who takes a 10 minute nap every lunch time. There are some people who might argue that he needs it more than I do, considering his job is quite physical and he spends 12 hours a day on his feet. To those people I would like to say ‘LA, LA, LA, I can’t hear you’ while sticking my fingers in my ears because I am a mature adult and who asked you anyway?

What’s most impressive about my father’s napping is the efficiency of it all. He lies down on the couch, sets his alarm for 10 minutes, and falls asleep immediately, apparently oblivious to my mother and me talking, eating, filling the dishwasher, listening to a podcast about Donald Trump and exclaiming loudly about what a ‘fucking disgrace’ he is. (Ok, that last one was just me.)

I, however, require optimum conditions in order to drift off. I need a cool room — but not too cold — a pillow of perfect temperature and thickness, a thin throw to cover myself with but not a duvet, obviously. I must also have complete silence as I find it impossible to sleep with other people within a one mile radius of me with their sighing and tossing and turning and generally just having the audacity to exist in my presence.

The exception to this rule is my friend Cat who sleeps as if she died in the middle of the night and no one has found the body yet. The first time we went away together for a weekend, I had to put my hand over her mouth at 3am to check if she was still breathing. Even before I wrote this column, I took to my bed like a Victorian lady who had just received news that her father had lost all of the family’s fortune in a wrecked ship (is it just me, or did that happen a lot?) and had a 20 minute nap in order to fortify myself. I woke up feeling refreshed and enthusiastic, eager to get back to work. Because, despite how lazy you might think I am, napping is good for us. Studies show that a short nap of 20 to 30 minutes can help to improve performance, alertness, and mood; and famous nappers include such luminaries as Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and John F Kennedy.

Companies such as Google have installed special sleep stations called ‘EnergyPods’ which allows employees to nap during the day by shutting out external noise and stimulus and reclining in the perfect position to allow optimum blood flow through the body. I presume most workplaces are a while off following suit, but I do think we should pay more attention to our sleeping patterns.

As a nation, we are becoming more and more sleep deprived, with women in particular reporting they are suffering with insomnia and broken sleep. Isn’t it time that we reclaim naps from toddlers, old-age pensioners, and stoned students? And authors who work from home. Please don’t hate me.


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