You don’t need eight hours’ sleep? I don’t believe you

You don’t need eight hours’ sleep? I don’t believe you

A boss of mine many years ago used to boast about how little sleep he needed, professing five hours was plenty and any more a waste of time and productivity.

This particular boss was a mongrel of man, an obnoxious, moody, angry tyrant. He was loathed by his staff and renowned for forgetting who he told to do what, lambasting anyone and everyone but himself when his actions caused issues.

A recent Parliamentary Report on Sleep Health Awareness argues sleep should become a national priority.Credit:iStock

Needless to say, I didn't confess that I require eight hours minimum or I turn feral and generally clock up a good nine.

Many a time, behind his back mind you, colleagues would complain about his tumultuous temper and how, perhaps, his self-lauded lack of sleep wasn't as effective and productive as he professed. As it turns out, he died very young, in his mid-forties, with three failed marriages under his belt and five kids who barely knew him.

The reason I am mentioning this now is that, some two decades later, all I seem to be hearing today is how little sleep those around me are getting.

For some, it is almost a #humblebragbrag, as they explain they stay awake to make money when foreign markets open to get an edge on their competitors. For others, it is more a moan of martyrdom, how they forfeit sleep for the benefit of child raising, household maintenance and the endless work required to earn enough to keep all the facets of their life fluid and functional.

My reaction? A big zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Why? Because all these people are adults who should know better and realise that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. These mothers should be aware of the adage that you put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others; the big bucks hunters that you can't take it with you and there is nothing more valuable than your health. And let's throw another pearl in here, John Lennon's prescient line, "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans".

Yes, I know it's hard to make a living these days, I'm struggling too. Yes, I am aware kids are high maintenance in every sense (one of the main reasons I never had any), and yes, the demands on our time are ridiculous. I also get that when it comes to actually getting to sleep, our brains are often racing, making it difficult if not impossible. But if you think it's OK for this to be your norm and you don't do something about it, then sorry, but you aren't thinking straight. And I mean this literally.

As it's Sleep Awareness Week, let's have a look at what we are doing to ourselves by not prioritising nightly nods and afternoon naps. The Sleep Foundation's chair,  Dorothy Bruck, says the first negative from inadequate sleep is brain function.

"We can't hold our attention, our memory becomes poorer, our reactions are slowed and our mood fluctuates more than normal."

Should a lack of sleep occur regularly, physical and mental health is also at risk. "The likelihood of depression increases, it seems likely our immune system suffers and we are at higher risk of metabolic impairments, such as those leading to diabetes," she explains. "Our performance at work is impaired and there is a higher chance of driving accidents."

And here is why I get infuriated with those who wear their tiredness as badge of honour – you are not just hurting yourself. Your kids are affected, your partners, your colleagues and those who may tragically encounter you nodding off behind the wheel. Burn yourself – your life, go ahead – but don't take us down with you.

A recent Parliamentary Report on Sleep Health Awareness argues sleep should become a national priority as a third pillar of health alongside diet and exercise. Yet while we are inundated with messages citing the importance of the first two, sleep is being largely ignored, perhaps another victim of our looks-obsessed culture. But, hey, see me after I've missed some shuteye and you'll soon realise the cosmetic repercussions. Perhaps the way to get the message across is to market it as a free beauty product!

So, yes, Kevin Rudd may contend he only requires three hours' sleep a night and Donald Trump reckons he's fine with four, despite the recommended being 7.5 plus. But let's look at Rudd, who was turfed by his own party in 2010 after reports emerged of growing dysfunction and a lack of coherence and focus in policy and Rudd's reputation for bursts of anger and brusqueness. And Trump? Well, how long is a piece of string to describe his demeanour and lucidity? Just take a look at how many staffers have jumped from his rocky ship.

I will leave the final word on a lack of sleep to someone who is seen as the epitome of the today's hard worker, a woman who asserts Australian workers have become lazy and "should be like the hardworking Chinese", PR dynamo Roxy Jacenko.

"I don't really sleep that much. I get four hours… I'm probably a miserable b*tch but that's just how it is."

My sympathies to her staff.

Wendy Squires is a Melbourne writer.

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