I’ve always prided myself on not needing that much sleep, on being able to make it through on 2-3 hours a night and on occasion (when work required) not sleeping at all and going straight through. I’ve done that on quite a few occasions. It’s been like that for a long time. I know Maggie needed 4 hours, but she was running the country, so I think it’s only fair that she had that extra hour or two.
Sleep used to be a bit of a distraction for me. An inconvenience. It used to get in the way of other things, rudely insisting that I attend to it when I was just in the middle of something else. Jumping up and shouting ‘look at me, look at me’ when all I wanted to look at, focus on, attend to, was something else, something different. Something far more interesting and definitely more useful.
A large part of my work takes me to Oldham, just east of Manchester. My finance team are based there. I always used to try and get there before most of the guys arrived for work, in my mind it shouldn’t matter where you live, your start time should be the same. That meant getting up at 4:00 to leave at 4:30hrs and sloping into the office, M60 allowing, after a number of motorway drive through coffees, at about 8:30hrs. I’d often then work through until about 20:00 or 21:00hrs before driving south and home, eventually arriving about 01:00hrs and getting up a few hours later for the start of the next one. And when I say drive home, it wasn’t really. It was more taking the handbrake off and letting the car go. After all it’s all down hill from up there.
That routine did however introduce me to one of life’s great experiences. Driving down the M6 Toll at about midnight with my favourite music on. Often mine was the only car on either side of the deserted highway as I hurtled through the darkness in my tiny metal tin, isolated and alone but very alive. Invigorated and excited in equal measure and just a little more deaf than when the journey began.
So that was me and sleep. We weren’t happy bedfellows.
How times change. How different could the world be? Now I look back at that person and wonder how I managed it, well I know actually, I managed it on coffee, Diet Coke, chocolate and adrenaline. But how did I cope with so little sleep for so long? Sometimes I look back with respect and admiration, occasionally I clap, but mostly I look back with a lot of concern and a little bit of ‘WTAF!’ However at the time it just felt ‘normal!’
Now I sleep. Boy do I sleep. I positively snooze my way through the week. If there is a comfy chair with a plumped up cushion or in fact no cushion and just one of those curvy metal benches that they have at railway stations then I’m gone. I’m snoozing away like my life depended on it, which bizarrely it sort of does.
Since the attack I’ve slept an average of about 8 hours a night and most of it has been quality deep sleep. And by hell it’s been good. The sort of sleep that you wake up from actually feeling rested rather than wondering what the point was for huddling under the duvet for a couple of hours. I’m not quite springing out of bed and stretching with a big beam of my face like they do in the adverts. I’m not really a morning person, but I am recharged, a Duracell bunny that has been plugged in overnight. That’s me now.
The tiredness that descends on you once you have had a heart attack is caused by the fact that your body is repairing itself. After all it’s been through a hell of an experience. An attack causes damage to your heart muscle because there has been a lack of oxygenated blood flowing to it. That damage needs to be repaired and whilst it is, that part of your heart is less efficient. It pumps less efficiently and blood flow reduces.
You also aren’t helped in the tiredness stakes by some of the drugs that are often prescribed. Beta blockers and statins, two very common drugs prescribed post attack, can both contribute to high levels of fatigue.
So that’s why I’m tired now and it’s likely to be like that for quite a few months. But the importance of sleep isn’t something new, we’ve all read and heard about how important sleep is, in fact Matthew Walker has just written a best seller called ‘Why We Sleep.’ Sleep doesn’t just make you feel refreshed it has a significant role to play in your mental health, physical health, quality of life and ultimately your safety.
There are bucket loads of studies out there that show that sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of kidney disease, diabetes and stroke. It also increases the risk of obesity and in children sleep helps healthy growth and development. Alongside all of that, your immune system depends on it. And all of this is the good stuff that sleep does before you even get to your heart.
If you deprive your body of sleep, your heart suffers. Badly. Your heart rate accelerates and your blood pressure increases. None of that is good. At all. A lack of sleep also leaves your body in an almost permanent state of ‘fight or flight’, it increases levels of a stress hormone called ‘cortisol’ which constricts your blood vessels and increases your blood pressure further. Sleep deprivation also limits the release of growth hormone which is essential for the blood vessels to repair their lining alongside a bunch of other really important stuff. If those vessels don’t repair properly then there is a hugely increased chance of heart attack and stroke.
And if you wanted anymore reason to hunker down under the quilt, then adults 45 years old and over who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those sleeping 7 or 8 hours.
So when sleep comes snapping at your heels like one of those annoying yappy-type dogs. Don’t ignore it, don’t ‘shoo’ it away. Pick the little fella up, give him a big cuddle, rub his wet nose and snuggle down under the duvet with him. Your body and the dog will thank you and if it helps you can always consider it training for the British Olympic Sleep team that I hope to lead in the Paris Olympics in 2024.