I'd rather be hibernating for the winter

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

I'd rather be hibernating for the winter

My body clock is still on summer time: Patricia is just one of the many people who are struggling this week with the big switch

USUALLY, I’m not one of Leo Varadkar’s early risers. But today, I’ve been up since dawn, moving zombie-like through the day, because I forgot to put the clock back.

Anyway, I wasn’t really expecting the arrival of winter time. There wasn’t much talk about it beforehand and I thought Leo might have dispensed with it altogether, being so averse – as he is - to the notion of an extra hour in bed in the morning.

The trouble is my own body clock is now all out of sync because of the sudden switch. It happens every year and I know for sure that I’m going to be awake all night for weeks to come cursing the vagaries of Greenwich Mean Time. That, combined with the brightness of the Hunter moon will leave me in a grouchy mood for months - at least until the dawn chorus strikes up again and we’re back in Irish Standard Time. Maybe it’s just the patriot coming out in me. In any case, at this stage of my life, it doesn’t take a lot to disturb my sleeping habits. What am I saying? At this stage of my life, I should be hibernating for the winter.

I don’t know what we’re going to do for time though when Brexit takes effect. Are we going to abandon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in the winter and stick with Irish Standard Time (IST) all the year round? We tried that once before, I recall, and we were all going around in a daze for half the year while production fell accordingly. But whatever about the economic implications of Britain leaving the EU and whether we’ll have a hard border or not, time is running out for some of us and we need to know promptly what time zone we’re going to be in post Brexit, so as to co-ordinate our sleeping patterns.

I’m not being facetious now. This is a serious issue for the economy too. I’ve just been told by my favourite quack that sleep deprivation has become the great curse of our age – and when I say age, I don’t mean those of us who are over the hill and who apparently don’t need much shut-eye anyway. I mean everybody who is going around with black circles under his or her eyes and drinking copious cups of coffee just to stay alert, and obviously not performing to their full potential.

It may well be the cause of all our economic hiccups and it is certainly contributing to hospital overcrowding, patient waiting lists and the growing feeling of angst in the country at large. Chronic sleep deprivation is a factor in most of our modern ailments, including diabetes, cardiovascular disorder, obesity and depression. I don’t know why the HSE isn’t importing vast amounts of passionflower – a well known cure for insomnia - and distributing it nationwide like the flu vaccine. A good night’s sleep might be just as effective for some people in warding off the germs.

Half the population can’t get a proper night’s sleep because of all the stresses of modern life and the fact that the bedroom is now full of electronic devices that apparently interfere with the circadian rhythm and turn day into night. I know people who fall asleep with the telly on and wake up an hour later to the sounds of some screechy pop star yanking them out of the first vital stage of REM. I know others who sleep with their mobile phones switched on under their pillows in case they might miss something. They’d be better off with a tincture of lavender oil under the pillow.

Now I’m not an expert on sleep. As you can see, the sudden switch back to GMT was too much for me. I don’t know when I last experienced REM. I keep falling off a cliff and waking up with a jerk. I’m told that this is an ancestral memory from the days when we lived in trees and was designed to alert us when we were at risk of falling off. I need to get rid of it. We’ve come down from the trees. But how do you get rid of an ancestral memory?

I envy people like Donald Trump who managed to build a business empire and get to the Oval Office with just three or four hours sleep a night, or Winston Churchill who won a world war with just two hour naps now and then. But it can’t have been good for either of them. I’ve tried all the suggested cures for insomnia – except mindfulness, which I can’t master at all - but none of them really work. I’ve even resorted to counting sheep in the small hours when the weight of the world was upon me, but all that exercise ever achieved was to increase my propensity for woolly thinking during the daylight hours. I wouldn’t mind but there was a time when I was such a sound sleeper that my dreams were in technicolor and it would have taken a sledgehammer to wake me up.

So my suggestion now to the Government and the HSE as we embrace what may very well be our final date with Greenwich Mean Time is this: what the country needs most of all is a good night’s sleep. It’s time they took our insomnia seriously, even if it means changing closing time to 10pm, sedating us with passionflower pills, putting sand in our eyes, or making us read the Bible every night before bed-time to calm our minds.