Working on a better appreciation of sleep

Study in ‘Nature’ shows if you don’t sleep you are even more of a liability in the office than if you’ve downed a bottle of vodka

 Barack Obama: he sleeps a crucifying four hours a night

Barack Obama: he sleeps a crucifying four hours a night


I have just started a movement. It’s called Yawns, which stands for Yes! A Wonderful Night’s Sleep. The goal of Yawns is simple: to rebrand early bedtime, making it cool and desirable rather than sad and slightly shameful.

I realise this is going to be hard: not only am I unable to persuade my children to go to bed early, I can’t even persuade myself.

Yet, during my three decades at work, I’ve observed that lack of sleep is the single biggest reason for me turning up crabby, negative and inefficient in the mornings.

All the research backs this up: my favourite study (published in Nature) compares weariness to drunkenness and shows that if you don’t sleep you are even more of a liability in the office than if you’ve downed a bottle of vodka.

Arianna Huffington has been going on about the importance of sleep since the day when she was so shattered by her frantic overachieving that she keeled over clutching her BlackBerry and cut her face open.

Julia Kirby, an editor on the Harvard Business Review, has now joined in, and in a recent blog post has urged everyone to start a pro-sleep movement.

As a life-long bad sleeper, I’ve seized the challenge and created Yawns. I’m not entirely happy with the name because it makes it sound boring. I considered Get Into Bed Early Tonight!, but a gibbet is tool of execution.

The page is up there on Facebook, complete with a profile picture of Barack Obama – a man who sleeps a crucifying four hours a night – with his hand clapped to his yawning mouth.

What Yawns now needs are some positive role models to reassure us that it is possible to be successful and still get eight hours sleep.

Alas, the only famous person bold enough to admit to liking a kip is Mariah Carey, who sleeps for 15 hours before performing – which doesn’t help. Sleep bingeing is only a bit better than sleep starvation.

For now the movement is going to have to make do with anti-role models – which exist in vast quantity.

Like Mr Obama, Indra Nooyi sleeps four hours a night. So does Martha Stewart. Marissa Mayer does between four and six, while Tom Ford gets by on just three.

The Yawns manifesto would name and shame them and outlaw their bragging talk about 4am being a productive hour for working. It would insist on:

lNo more boasting about being awake. Anyone admitting in public to getting up at 4am would have to prove they went to sleep at 8pm and were still getting eight hours;

lPlenty of boasting about being asleep. People should say: “I’ve been to bed at 10 three nights this week!” in the same way that they now say: “I’ve been to the gym for three days running!”

Businesses would also get involved. In particular they would promise to:

lDiscipline anyone sending out an email between 8.30pm and 8am;

lBan business breakfasts – which are awful events anyway;

lCut business travel to different time zones – no loss because at least half of it is pointless;

lBan all evening corporate dos. No business dinners. No nights at the opera with clients – also surely a huge relief all round.

Private social events could still take place in the evening, but guests would be expected to go home at 9.30pm.

Smartphones and computers are Yawns’ sworn enemies, both because they are too exciting and because LED light messes with our melatonin. Thus my manifesto declares:

lAll software must include built-in reminders that bedtime is approaching, possibly shutting gadgets down at the witching hour;

lThe alarm clock app should be made illegal. I have my phone by my bed because it wakes me up. Once it is there, well, I look at it.

Such measures alone, I fear, will not be quite enough: the family needs to do its bit too.

Thus Yawns’ rules would also insist on the following changes at home:

l9.30pm curfew for all family members, with lights out at 10pm. Noisy nightly visits to family bathrooms would be replaced by the use of chamber pots;

lIf any teenagers could not accept the above, they themselves should be banned;

lBabies should be banned too. Indeed, Yawns isn’t really compatible with child-rearing at all.

Even then, I have a nasty feeling my manifesto isn’t going to translate into regular Yawns for me.

There is one more rule I must insist on:

lBan worrying or interesting or cross-making thoughts after 9pm.

Better still, ban all thoughts altogether. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013

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