Thursday, 26 February 2009
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream...
I have that ‘haven’t had enough sleep’ feel today: limbs like steel girders, heart pounds alarmingly when I walk upstairs at a snail’s pace, feel slightly sick and can’t face breakfast. I woke abruptly, see, in the middle of the night with the kind of start that sends adrenaline pumping round your body and means there’s not a cat’s chance in hell of dropping off again for at least another hour. So I lay there and listened to my husband snoring. I thought I’d turn him on his side to stop the racket only to find that he was already on his side. Oh. I contemplated moving to the spare bedroom but couldn’t quite face getting up. And talking of cats, there she was, squeezed between us in a languorous stretch; my stirrings stirred her and she decided to sit up and embark on the sort of scrub down which made the whole bed shudder, accompanied by the slightly unnerving licky, clicky, chewy sounds which only a cat engrossed in its ablutions can muster. I sighed and turned over, a reluctant witness to the nocturnal performances of my bedfellows.
At a certain point, job done, cat disembarked and padded out of the room. Things to do, people to see. Where the hell was she going at this hour? No cat flap so fat chance of a quick fag outside. Off to open a few cupboards, perhaps, make an omelette and maybe polish the silver? I shall never know. Before long she was back, leaping onto the bed with a throaty chirrup, her guilty secrets locked up in her furry head, stretching herself once more, sausage like, into the space between us.
I didn’t want to look at the clock. Fatal error, that. You see the time and panic. Well, I do. I have a pathological fear of being denied sleep, such is my need for it. Without it I simply cannot cope. The smallest things become mountains I can’t possibly climb. I go all shouty and cry and feel depressed. I barely have the stamina to empty the dishwasher or load the washing machine, any other task being completely out of the question. Give me eight or nine hours sleep, on the other hand, and I have the energy of a meteorite. And that level of sleep happens with about the same frequency of a meteorite which means, my friends, I spend most of my time being shouty and simply emptying and loading the dishwasher. No wonder my career stinks. But I have very clean plates.
While the cat was away cat burglaring or whatever, I took advantage of the extra space to stretch out on my back, place a pillow under my knees and practise a bit of yogic breathing. Usually does the trick. Not tonight though. Much huffing and puffing later I was still wide awake. The cuckoo clock downstairs in the hall brazenly chose to tell me it was 4 o’clock when I had SPECIFICALLY not wanted to know. (‘Cuckoo clock!’ I hear you gasp. Yes, indeed, I’m afraid it was a present from my slightly unhinged aunt and uncle-in-law, of whom I am most fond. It’s not one of those Swiss chocolate ones with plastic figurines who spin round nauseatingly. No, no, 'tis all wood and not a splash of red or blue or green in sight. It will have to do till we find a grandfather clock and keeps me company during the day, reminding me I am late again.)
You may be wondering, or maybe not, what it was that woke me with such a start? Well, in the way that only dreams can blend reality into a surreal interpretation of the events of your life, I found myself with a large tray of lasagne in which, it seems, bulbs had been planted, which, when introduced to the heat of the oven, decided to start sprouting. So there I was, oven gloves on hands, removing this tasty platter of bovine product from the oven with green sprouts coming out of it. It was like a hot grow-bag. Now, when you consider that I had made lasagne for supper by recycling Bolognese from the freezer, and that I had been planting bulbs that lunchtime using compost from an old grow-bag, you see how it all came together. Ah yes, the brain, a source of endless fascination.
So there I am, writing a thousand words in my head, wondering about going down to the computer and quickly deciding that sitting hunched and cold in my dressing gown in my study while all the western world slept was not ideal. When suddenly the alarm clock goes off. Have I slept? Have three hours really slipped by while I shuffled and twitched and had grim thoughts and shared stories with the cat? I shall never know. But I felt crap.
Interestingly, as I haul my reluctant carcass through the day (thank God the yoga ogre cancelled due to a heavy cold), I refer to the Horizon programme I had half an eye on last night while I whipped up white sauce with one hand (for the lasagne) and pancakes with another: it’s all about body clocks. Now this is something which I have long since understood. It’s been the most perfect excuse for doing sod all. It basically seems that there is hardly a decent stretch in the day when your body is really up to dealing with modern life. ‘Eat like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’ goes the old proverb (I like old proverbs). Well, yes, that all makes sense: start the day with a stomach full of food which will take you nicely through to lunchtime when you can tuck in decently again to get you through the next stretch and then eat lightly in the evening as your body clock slows towards bedtime. Yet how many of us really have a chance to do that these days? Even my retired parents still have their main meal in the evening. It’s like they’re building up to it all day. It’s the thing they look forward to. But yes, going to bed on a full stomach makes no sense at all. Not only are you not burning up the carbs so you put on weight as you sleep, but apparently your low levels of insulin at this time of day means you have more unconverted glucose washing around your body which can lead to diabetes later in life. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! And it gives you the WEIRDEST dreams...
The programme also confirmed that there is little point exercising in the first half of the day (so much for my yoga class then). Apparently, due to the nature of the human body clock, our blood pressure doesn’t get sufficiently lowered by exercising at this time for it to do us any good. Conversely, most world sporting records have been broken in the late afternoon or early evening. Meanwhile, most of us get a dip in energy around two o’clock in the afternoon which, apparently, has little to do with whether you have eaten lunch or not and is just an energy trough brought about by your body clock. This, I learned, is when most road accidents occur as people drop off behind the wheel for a few seconds. The answer? Stop the car, get a coffee, drink it, go back to the car and snooze for 20 minutes (the time it takes for the coffee to take effect). Voila.
So if you’re in the middle of a meeting at work at 2pm and feel an uncontrollable urge to shut your eyes (I think we've all been there...), just say ‘sod it’ and lay your head down on the desk and have a quick zizz. If everyone’s doing it, then no-one will notice, will they? Oh yes, it’s all so simple really.
Trouble is, I get my biggest energy dip just as I have to gear up with the children – drive here there and everywhere to pick them up, ask lots of interested questions about their day, answer lots of questions about everything and anything, get them going on their homework, make them supper, get them out to Brownies or some such nonsense on time, get the bath running or the hair washed, fill in all the forms, write the cheques and sign the homework diary, listen to them read, help them with their piano practice, clear up the supper and smooth their troubled little brows or laugh at their jokes – when all I really want to do is slump in front of Ready, Steady, Cook or The Weakest Link with a cup of tea and drooping eyelids.
And it was no better when I was at work. I had a complete panic attack if there were any meetings before 11 o’clock in the morning (the time, interestingly, that I was born). Up until that point all I could really manage was faffing around with some filing. Phone calls were completely out of the question too. Far too energy sapping. But hey, there I was still going strong at 8 o’clock at night when the rest of the office had long since left the premises. Funny old business.
Even now, on reflection, I feel marginally better when the dreaded alarm wakes me after six hours sleep than I do after seven. It is all down to whether your body is woken in a biorhythmic peak or a trough, I suppose. Anyway, strikes me I spend more of my days troughing than peaking and when I’m troughing I have to peak and when I’m peaking I can probably trough. If you still follow. Fact of the matter is, I wish I was the cat. She spends her whole day reacting to her biorhythms – mewling for food, pottering outside, coming back in, mewling for food, having a snooze, going outside, mewling for food, having a snooze. Oh yes, she’s got it sussed. And no doubt she’ll come and taunt me again tonight, denying me precious duvet coverage and disturbing my lurid dreams of tulip entangled tagliatelle and my whole new personal take on ‘pasta primavera'. Or, since I had my hair cut today, it might feature a bloody great platter of lasagne perched on the chair, little legs dangling, while the hairdresser tidies the daffodils sprouting out in all directions. Yeah, just keep eating the cheese, Love....