Uninterrupted sleep is no longer a necessity - it’s a luxury

Let me make a small guess: two out of every five people reading this column are doing so half-heartedly. They have something else nagging them, apart from the weekly whining by yours truly. Their mind is seized by a thought, rather an unfulfilled desire: Wish I had slept a little more!

You may have an Audi parked in your garage, you may be travelling business class in planes, you may have the biggest flat-screen mounted on your wall, you may be sipping single malt or vintage wine every evening from the stock that keeps getting replenished by your regular stopovers at duty-free shops, you may even have an air-conditioner installed in your bathroom. But you cannot purchase what has turned out to be the biggest luxury of our times – a sound sleep. You may try stealing it though.

Ironically, the better your position to buy the regular luxuries of life, the more elusive this luxury tends to get. And considering that almost everybody these days wants to be in a position to buy a flat or bring home a plasma TV or send their children to the best of schools, irrespective of their incomes, people are working harder than ever before. Good life, after all, comes at a price, and these days, the price seems to be uninterrupted sleep. But is life any good if you haven’t even slept well?

We have, however, made peace with interrupted sleep. Anybody can wake us up at anytime: it could be the hysterical boss who is prone to waking up at five in the morning; it could be a panicky colleague urgently in need of your guidance at midnight; it could be a man from the bank reminding you about the minimum payment due on your credit card; it could be a woman from the same bank offering you a loan to clear the outstanding dues on the credit card; it could be the call-taxi driver reminding you that he is waiting outside your flat to take you to the airport (while you are still in bed); or it could just be the alarm programmed in your mobile phone reminding you that it’s time to wake up your child because the school bus will be coming soon.

When I was a child, which was not too long ago, a sound sleep was taken for granted. The three biggest enemies of sleep – satellite television, mobile phone and laptop – were yet to invade our bedrooms. There was Doordarshan, but it would end transmission by nine – or was it 10 pm? The announcers on All India Radio too took leave by 11 pm. After that, you had no choice but to sleep.

And it was very easy for one to fall asleep those days. Most people bicycled to work; and they thought nothing of walking a kilometre or two every evening to the nearest market to fetch vegetables and groceries. The road was their gym. Real gyms didn’t exist anyway.

Today we either order groceries over the phone or stock up for the entire week during a Sunday visit to the supermarket. We no longer know what it means to walk. There may be gyms now in every neighbourhood where you can walk on the treadmill, but does it mean you get to sleep like a log at the end of the day? No. You usually doze off either while surfing the net or answering a text message or watching ‘breaking news’ on TV – only to be woken up soon after by a phone call. Even before you realise, it is another day.

The Internet is replete with stories about the death of the immensely fit Ranjan Das who, at the young age of 40, was appointed by SAP, a multinational software provider, to head its operations in the Indian subcontinent. Within two years, in 2009, Das dropped dead after a workout in the gym, and the cause of his death has been pinned down to lack of sleep. He slept for less than five hours, as he had admitted during a television interview – even though doctors these days prescribe seven hours of good sleep, especially for those who have touched forty.

If you sleep less than five hours, the chances – so I learn from the Internet – of high blood pressure increases by 350-500% and heart attack by threefold. You can’t really dispute such claims when you are used to waking up in the mornings feeling unwell and craving more sleep.

This column, in fact, is inspired by a Facebook page called Ghum, which was started recently in Bangladesh, most likely by a sleep-starved soul. Ghum, or ghoom, in Bengali, means sleep; and as many as 134,327 people ‘like’ the page as of date. Compared to that, only 6,976 people ‘like’ Franz Kafka so far; while only 6,545 people have bothered to click on their mouses to ‘like’ George Clooney. Sleep, clearly, wins hands down. Really, when was the last time you slept like a log?