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The Power of Sleep

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Britain's first prime minister, Margaret Thatcher - famous for her ability to go without sleep (Image via Wikipedia)

Call me slow, but I’ve only just realised that chronic lack of sleep affects every aspect of my life.  What did it take to make me wake up and take notice?   A new online facility called Moodscope.

The Moodscope website uses  a simple card game to assess your mood. You flip 20 cards in turn, each labelled with an emotion such as “anxious” or “proud”.  You rank the degree to which you feel each one, from 0 for “not at all or a little” to 3 for “extremely”.   Day by day, the system tracks your score on a graph to indicate your changing state of mind.  You may annotate each score to say why you felt that way e.g. “it’s my birthday” or “had a row with my best friend”.

Over time, it enables you to spot the triggers for your highs and lows and so empowers you to take avoiding or corrective action.  There’s also a facility to buddy up with a friend who receives notification of your progress, so they can step in to help you if you hit a sudden trough.  It’s a great resource for anyone who dips in and out of depression and a welcome alternative to medication – or to joining an NHS waiting list for psychiatric advice.

When I first heard about Moodscope on BBC Radio 4 recently, I thought I’d give it a try.  I’m not a habitual depressive but I’ve had my moments when life’s been tough, and I have friends who might benefit too.  So I nominated myself as a guinea pig and waited for the the website to recover from the crippling influx of traffic  that followed the broadcast. (What a depressive bunch we Radio 4 listeners must be.)

I’ve been taking the test for 10 days or so, and virtually every day I’ve found myself thinking “well, I’d rate that a 2 rather than a 1 if I wasn’t so tired”.  Exhaustion, sleepiness, torpor – such words pepper my annotations.  I don’t need Prozac, I need sleep.

If only I could get enough sleep, there’d be no end to what I could achieve!  It’s not that I’m an insomniac – I’m just a very busy person.  It’s too easy to let a sleep deficit build up and become a habit without noticing. And I haven’t had enough sleep for years.   It’s the same with the ironing: the basket is never empty.  But now I’ve identified the problem, I feel fully armed to address it.

If only sleep could be stored up and banked!  It would be great to be able to draw down some savings when you’re short of time for sleep, avoiding bed for days when life gets busy. And I’ve always liked the thought of staying up all night (though have seldom had the stamina to do it).  There’s something God-like about the feeling of being alert while the rest of the world sleeps.

Sadly, I’m no Margaret Thatcher.  (No, on second thoughts, delete the ‘sadly’). The only aspect of her character that I’d really like to emulate is her ability to function efficiently on four or five hours sleep a night.  Churchill, too.  I guess that’s why I’ll never be prime minister.  But there is good news – I have done quite a lot of  ironing tonight.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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