London - When I was growing up, my mother had a magic cure for any situation.
Failed an exam? No problem. Had your heart broken? Relief was at hand.
What was this magic cure? “Have a hot bath and go to bed.”
While my sisters rolled their eyes and insisted this would not fix their crisis, I didn’t need to be told twice.
“You were always taking yourself off to quiet corners for a nap,” my mom says. “You must have been the only schoolgirl who didn’t fight to stay up late - you were in your pyjamas before it got dark.”
It’s the same today. If sleeping were an Olympic sport, I’d win gold. There’s no day that can’t be made better by a little snooze and there are few greater joys than waking up after a blissful, ten-hour sleep. Except maybe a 12-hour one or even 14 (my record).
Like my mother, I believe sleep has magical powers - capable of transforming me into the best version of myself.
Without it, I’m cranky, anxious and overwhelmed. The tiniest thing sends me into a spin. As for my brain-power - without a good night’s slumber I have all the wit of a wellington boot.
I marvel at colleagues who hold down high-flying jobs while looking after babies and existing on three hours of interrupted sleep.
“How do you do it?” I ask.
“You just do,” they shrug.
Other energetic friends take the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” approach and tease me that I am snoozing my life away.
We live in a culture that seems to consider sleep an inconvenience, something to be fitted in between other commitments.
We’re expected to be switched on 24 hours a day, sleeping with our phones by our pillows, checking emails after midnight.
Doesn’t anyone sleep any more? Apparently not. Lack of sleep has become a virility symbol.
I had dinner recently with a man who kept bragging that he’d had only four hours’ sleep the night before. I wanted to tell him our dinner would have been a lot more interesting if he’d had five.
But the tide is turning: a host of business leaders and scientists argue that far from being a waste of time, getting enough sleep is crucial to success, health and happiness - and even to our body shape and relationships.
It all started with Arianna Huffington, the 61-year-old author, journalist, politician and founder of the Huffington Post. She became evangelical about the need to sleep after collapsing with exhaustion, resulting in a broken cheekbone.
She argues that thanks to the pressures of modern life, women are so exhausted we can’t function properly.
“The advice I would give to my younger self is very simple,” she says. “Get enough sleep and you will be more productive, more effective and more likely to enjoy your life.”
Huffington is so convinced sleeping will help us get ahead she has started a campaign urging us to “sleep our way to the top” and put beds into her offices to allow people to nap.
And a new book, Dreamland - Adventures In The Strange Science Of Sleep, by David Randall, says she might be right.
He started to investigate sleep after he suffered insomnia and the result is a gripping account of why we sleep.
Randall argues: “We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever and yet more elusive.
“We’ve put ourselves into this trap of thinking time spent sleeping is time wasted. Yet research shows the opposite is true. Rather than being a sign of laziness, sleep helps our bodies and brains perform at their highest levels.
“Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to increased rates of obesity and diabetes.”
And sleep deprivation doesn’t mean getting by on only a couple of hours of sleep a night. We need one hour of sleep for every two hours we are awake, which means six hours or less of sleep can damage our mental and physical health.
“When a person lies down to sleep, the brain undergoes a process that is crucial to learning, memory and performance,” says Randall.
“Even a short nap primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with ideas, identify patterns faster and recall information accurately.”
Indeed Bill Clinton once admitted: “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.”
Depression rates are 40 times higher for patients with insomnia, and the University of Michigan found an extra hour of sleep does more for our happiness than a £40,000 pay rise.
According to research at the University of Pittsburgh, a good night’s sleep could be the key to a happy marriage.
Volunteers wore a sleep monitor and rated interactions with their partners as negative or positive. The more sleep the women had, the more positively they saw their relationship.
Sleeping can even help you lose weight. The theory is that when we are tired, we eat more - often sugary foods - to get energy. A lack of sleep can also affect metabolism, reducing the rate at which we burn calories.
Research at the University of Warwick has found that adults who get less than seven hours of sleep a night are twice as likely to become obese.
Actress Penelope Cruz is said to sleep an average 14 hours a night. “When I don’t sleep, I get crazy like a baby. My record for sleeping is 17 hours,” she says.
So a good night’s sleep could get you promoted, save your marriage, keep you slim - and help you look like Penelope Cruz. Well, almost. Even I know there are limits to what a good nap can do. - Daily Mail