Sleep deprivation should be classified as an illness – and a serious one at that. Admittedly it affects different people in different ways, but few could claim not to find their mental capacity somewhat lacking after a bad night’s sleep.
I’ve always admired my mother tremendously for how well she copes with chronic insomnia. She’s suffered from it ever since I can remember, and has tried every suggested remedy under the sun to tackle it, with little effect. For some time she resorted to prescription sleeping pills but stopped taking them – much to her credit – because she hated feeling like a zombie. Now her sleep patterns are left to chance, and whilst some nights are better than others she still regularly wakes after a few hours and is unable to drift off again before dawn breaks.
Speaking as someone for whom sleep has always been a source of great comfort, I find the very concept of chronic insomnia unbearable. On those few nights where I have lain awake in the dark alone with my thoughts, I’ve felt a rising sense of anxiety that this, the one vestige of escape from the prison of my own hyperactive brain, was being threatened.
Because of course it’s not just the body that sleep helps to repair. It also helps restore the mind. At highly stressful times such as exams and relationship break ups, sleep is the only thing that takes us away from our stressors for a few short hours, allowing us to drift away and dream of other things. Without it, we are trapped in wakefulness, unable to switch off from daily life.
So it is much to people with insomnia’s credit that they’re able to function near-normally despite not having the respite that – the odd restless night aside – the rest of us take for granted. Truly I take my hat off to them, because if I even get an hour’s less sleep than ‘normal’ (which, for me as for most others is between seven and eight hours) I am noticeably (hopefully only to myself, but I’m sure it rubs off onto others on occasion) irritable, anxious and struggle to cope with even the most simple of tasks.
“To sleep perchance to dream” – wasn’t that what Hamlet said? And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do exactly that.