• Stephanie Hammond

Sleep - how much?

I was managing a great team of town planners in the late 1990s and they were some of my greatest life teachers. It was a busy office and sometimes the work load was overwhelming. One time when I just didn’t know what piece of work to do first, this piece of advice saved my day:

Just do what’s on top of your mind first. Then do the next thing that top of your mind. And so on.

This was one of those comments that has come back to save me in times of overwhelm. And I often remember it before the overwhelm kicks in.

We had a lovely rapport in that office where open speaking was encouraged and supported. And I’m grateful for that. Many a gem was embodied in throw-away comments.

I really loved my work in that office. I set tight deadlines and I did my own share of working hard to achieve them. I was new to the city then and I hadn’t got myself involved in any out of work interests. When the others talked about their own outside of work activities I had nothing to contribute. The comment was made that I was ‘boring’.

At first I denied this, especially to myself. But as time went by and I watched myself and listened to my topics of conversation, I realised he was right - I was boring! I started taking myself out and about and discovered a whole new world in my adopted city. And here I realised that when my life was not a daring adventure, it was nothing!

Another comment stuck with me. But this is one which I did nothing about at the time. I didn’t believe even a smidgen of it, to be honest.

Now, sleep isn’t something I’ve known how to luxuriate in during my life. As a child I found it hard to get to sleep and I was always up before anyone else. During my baby-bearing years, it was rare that I slept more than four or five hours a night. During my years at university I did most of my assignments into the wee hours of the night. However, during those years of studying, I learned to nap between lectures, stretched out on a couch in the student lounge. Yet I never mastered the art of how to sleep in. Eyes open and I was awake and out of bed, regardless of how little sleep I’d had.

What does this have to do with a throw-away comment? My colleague warned me that I might think I don’t need the recommended 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night. But, he told me, there’ll come a time when my body would rebel and catch me up with all that sleep I wasn’t allowing myself.

How do I feel about this prediction now? I’ve been retired from my professional job for nearly seven years and, although it’s not been easy, I’ve learned to sleep. And indeed, now I often get 10 hours sleep a night.

I’ve learned to sleep in too. In my ignorance, I thought those who slept in just didn’t wake up. Now my ‘sleeping in’ consists of snoozing, waking, reading, snoozing. Not often. Just when I want to treat myself. Am I catching up? I think so. Although I haven’t done the math of how many hours sleep I’ve deprived myself of over 50 years.

So what’s prompted this musing on sleep?

Last night our student neighbours had a party - right outside our bedroom window, it seemed. It was after midnight before I fell into a deep sleep and I woke at 7. Hardly enough sleep, even though I had 7 hours! This afternoon I had a refreshing nap, a reminder of that earlier time and wisdom freely offered and not always received graciously. Now I accept that wisdom, and indeed, I even pass it on!

I’m grateful for the party noise makers. They’ve given me an insight into how far I’ve come and made me fully aware that finally, I can now sleep!

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