'To sleep – perchance to dream!'
At least that is how Shakespeare's Hamlet voiced his feelings on this important aspect of health. I have no doubt that his view would continue to find many modern-day supporters. However, how does such leisurely sentiment fit along side the Chancellor, George Osborne's recently expressed wish that we might all work an extra hour for the good of England?
Assuming that, for some of us, the proposed extra hour of work reduces time asleep, how might that impact on our health? It has long been known that sleep deprivation causes an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and depression. Recent statistics also indicate a greater risk of heart disease and of dying younger. Furthermore, we might be heavier in the process, as reduced sleep reduces the ability to burn off fat. Sleep deprivation is also a safety risk; causing 'microsleeps', where people spontaneously 'nod off' for brief periods and thereby run the risk of causing accidents whilst operating machinery or driving vehicles.
Meanwhile there is no doubt that sleep is a necessity in order to allow the body to regenerate cells and heal damaged tissues, revitalise the immune system, organise our memories, and improve our energy levels, apart from just making us feel happier.
However, for those of us who find difficulty staying in bed, all is not lost. Whilst the usual recommendation for an adult is seven to eight hours sleep per night, a report in Sleep Medicine recorded that, in a survey of 450 women over a period of fourteen years, those women who sleep between five and six-and-a-half hours were more likely to be alive than those who had been managing the recommended seven or eight hours per night.
This brings me to another Tory statesman (Disraeli), who is reported to have said: 'there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics'. What, then, is a person to believe? Personally, I subscribe to the poet Felix Dennis's concept that our task is to find the most agreeable way to fill the gap between being born and dying. If you wake naturally after only five or six hours sleep, do not fret; instead rejoice that you have that extra hour to make use of for the betterment of England. For, as A.E. Housman wrote in the 'Shropshire Lad': 'Up, lad: when the journey's over there'll be time enough to sleep'.
(This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Wednesday 13th October 2010)
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