Today FM's Dave Moore: Sleep – What Even Is That?
I used to be so cocky. Sleep? Yeah, I get sleep. Loads. Too much, in fact. This was when I worked for myself. I could roll out of bed at noon, do a few hours work, have a nap, stay up working till 2am, fall into bed and start again.
Then, I got a real job. Breakfast radio. The alarm went off at 4:25am. Every day. For eight years. It was such a different experience of life and sleep was at its core. If you had asked me to write down who I am, like some existential exercise, the first line, before man, broadcaster, friend, son, husband or anything else would have been this:
I am tired.
It's like being permanently jet-lagged. It's terrible. I adored the job but detested the fatigue. Imagine, then, my delight when I managed to find another job that meant I had to leave the house at 1pm! My God! It's a new world!
Well, it would have been had our first child not come along at around the same time. Breakfast radio hours are punishing but they are, at least, regular. Our first-born's time-keeping was a little less predictable. Some nights he'd be up every few hours. Other nights he'd sleep through, but the fear of him waking up would destroy any hope YOU had for a full night's sleep. Then came number 2. Then, all at once, 3 & 4 together. And here we are today. Utterly broken from tiredness.
I genuinely have not slept with abandon since 2002.
Even on holidays or when the kids are elsewhere, sleep is always fitful. A car alarm sounds awfully like a crying kid when your brain is pre-programmed to get up and change nappies or make bottles or quash nightmares in the wee small hours. You also wake with the inevitable body-clock-stare-at-the-phone-at-6-something-in-the-morning. Oh, great. I'm awake now.
There was a brief period, earlier this year when Anna (twin 2) had finally decided to sleep through and we high-fived and chuckled at how it was all behind us. We were free of the insanity and we'd be forever dozing on fluffy pillows of gorgeous, uninterrupted sleep.
The 4-year-old has developed a tremendous fear of his bunk bed. The 6-year-old just got up and started making breakfast at around 3am for a few weeks cos he couldn't yet read the clock in the kitchen. The dog, who has slept downstairs since we got her 11 years ago, found the 4-year-old's bunk bed far less terrifying and headed in there. Her clawed paws pacing across the exposed floorboards of the landing, as she tried to work out how to open the door to the boys' room added to the cacophony of the darkest hours. All of this, of course, woke the twins so they decided that this sleeping-through lark was a waste of everyone's time.
NO! EVERYONE UP! NOW AND FOREVER!
This is where we are now. Four kids and a dog, all allergic to sleep. Then, after waking up ratty, they spend the day in varying states of tiredness. Some napping. Some not. All very, very on edge. Tantrums are one cross word away. My tantrums!
I am currently sitting in a restaurant, typing this article into my phone. A young couple, in college together no doubt, are eating across the way from me. I stare with envy at them. Not for their young love, their youthful exuberance, their world's gaping like oysters before them.
No. I envy their sleep. Up for lectures? Easy. Sure, you can turn over and get the notes from someone else. Up late at a party? Sure, who cares? You can sleep in tomorrow.
I feel like I should go and tell them how fortunate they are and how they shouldn't take it for granted and to savour every sweet second of sleep. But I won't. It wouldn't sink in any way.
You know that old phrase, that youth is wasted on the young? Well, I have a new one for you:
Sleep is wasted on the childless.