When you’re a new parent, you find yourself thinking about sleep a lot.
As well as banging on about being a new parent all the time. But, yes. Sleep.
As it happens, I think about sleep a fair amount anyway. Right now, I’m looking at a letter on my noticeboard from the local Department of Clinical Neurosciences about my “sleep related episodes”, which may or may not be related to my stroke.
I’ll be going for a sleep-deprived EEG in due course, which should be interesting. Hopefully going out clubbing till 6am is the indicated preparation for that.
And in my previous life as a High-Powered Financial Lawyer, it was entirely normal for me to pull, say, three all-nighters in any given week. I’ve got to think that was a contributing factor to my stroke.
So when Clonidine for the masses, BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week, got into Hard Work And Sweet Slumber this week, you better believe I was there. The fulcrum of the discussion was neurologist and sleep scientist Matthew Walker’s new book, Why We Sleep.
Why We Sleep looks at the great sleep erosion since 1940, and how this has been deleterious to physical health, mental health, and GDP. In 1940, less than 10% of the British population got less than six hours sleep a night. Now, less than half of the population get that amount of sleep.
Presenter Francine Stock (#Stroke’s Andrew Marr is on holiday) is also joined by Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA and chair of the Theresa May-commissioned Taylor Review report Good Work, Susan Foister, co-curator of the forthcoming Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites at the English National Gallery, and Sasha Handley, who is running the impact and engagement project ‘How we used to sleep’ with Little Moreton Hall.
It’s worth listening to in its entirety at the link above, but here are some quick takeaways…
- Medieval people slept in two chunks – biphasically – which seemed to work pretty well for them. The First Sleep would be 3 1/2-4 hrs, followed by 1hr awake to have sex, pray, or brew beer, then the Second Sleep. No doubt you modern types are wondering – Why they didn’t pray, screw, and brew AT THE SAME TIME?!?!
- Sleep deficits particularly affect lower socio-economic classes, but are also a form of affluenza. The World Health Organisation has characterised night shift work as a carcinogen.
- Modern concerns about the quality and quantity of sleep reflect similar concerns during the early period of the industrial revolution.
- Matthew Taylor characterises these as a liminal periods of disenchantment – and Engels Pauses – wherein, during the early stages of the industrial revolution, change had begun but there wasn’t yet an improvement in people’s conditions in say, Manchester or Salford, and we’re in a similar phase now.
So, what to do to get a good night’s sleep and avoid a massive stroke in these pre-post-capitalist times? The programme does offer some practical advice. Obviously, keeping yer devices out of the bedroom will help. But this is presented as being much bigger sacrifice than ditching petrol cars for electric. And that’s fair enough.
Sleeping pills – like, say, Clonidine, which is a blood pressure pill that can be prescribed off-label as a sedative-hypnotics – don’t really help. Matthew Walker indicates that sleeping pills are blunt instruments that can’t produce naturalistic sleep, and have been linked to a higher risk of death and cancer. Cognitive behaviour therapy seems to be as good short term and lasts longer.
Walker does advocate a hot bath before bed, though. This is advice I’ve previously received through, I think, Headspace. And I’ve found it to work. Science says that’s not for the reasons one might assume, though. It’s not that the bath gets you all comfy and cosy and relaxed and ready for bed.
No. According to science, the secret is that you have to drop your body temperature 1°C to get off to sleep. In a hot bath, your blood moves towards your body surface, and your core temperature plummets.
Oh, and the Pre-Raphaelites would recommend regaining your creativity. Nighty-night – see you next week!