Posted in Events, Family, Personal life, Writing

Body Clock Versus Alarm Clock: A Lockdown Dilemma

photo of two sleeping kittens curled up
Chez Young we are sleeping like kittens during lockdown – including our new kittens, Bertie and Bingo

I wrote this column towards the end of April for the May 2020 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Now that all but essential keyworkers are at home all day and most of us are no longer slave to the alarm clock, are you finding your body clock is changing?

In our house, we’ve moved into a different time zone, four hours behind British Summer Time. We’re in synch with Rio de Janeiro.

We’re also sleeping more, typically nine to ten hours a night instead of the usual seven. It feels almost like hibernation, but that’s all wrong for spring.

Anyone for estivation? – a handy word meaning the summer equivalent of hibernation, mostly done to survive periods of drought.

As I’m used to working from home, I’d assumed lockdown wouldn’t affect my writing schedule. When getting up at 6.30am to see my daughter off to school, I used to start writing between 8am and 9am, before any other business of the day might distract me. Now I don’t start writing until mid-afternoon. That’s a much bigger lag than our sleep schedule.

I’ve no idea why this is so, but as with all else in lockdown, I’ve decided to go with the flow and count any day that ends without a crisis as a win.

Our current situation makes clear how artificial “office hours” of 9am-5pm are. How did they ever catch on? Of course, office hours don’t apply to many of those keyworkers whose true value to society is now apparent to us all. I bet many people now enjoying working their own flexible hours from home will be lobbying to retain them post lockdown.

Even so, I will have to break my current habit of stepping outside the front door in my nightie at midday to bring in the newspaper/milk/parcels, as there will once again be passers-by to consider.

Roll on the day when moving the wheelie bin onto the pavement no longer feels like an exciting, slightly illicit outing.


Need Escapist Lockdown Reading?

cover of Murder Your Darlings
Fly away with Sophie to an idyllic Greek island!

While all of my novels class as comfort reads (despite the odd murder!), my latest novel Murder Your Darlings is particularly escapist, as it takes place in the idyllic setting of a tiny, remote Greek island in the month of May. Starting an finishing in the village of Wendlebury Barrow, the action takes Sophie Sayers outside of her comfort zone while she takes stock of her relationship with Hector. Will absence make the heart grow fonder? You’ll have to read it to find out!

Order the ebook for the ereader of your choice here.

While most bookshops are currently closed, order the paperback from Amazon during lockdown – or contact me to provide a copy to you directly.

Addicted to Audio?

image of square version of Best Murder in Show cover, ready for new audiobook
An audiobook bargain at just £2.99!

Audiobooks make a great accompaniment to gardening, decorating, crafts and other activities you may be doing more of during lockdown.

I’ve just discovered that the ebook of my first novel, Best Murder in Show, is currently on special offer at just £2.99 on Audible. (Also available from many other ebook retailers – prices may vary.)

Click here to order your copy on Audible.

Siobhan Waring did such a great job with this story that I’ve just booked her to narrate the audiobook of Secrets at St Bride’s later this year.

 

Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Golden Slumbers

In my column for the July-August issue of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser, I arrived at some surprising conclusions about my erratic night-time sleeping habits.

“If 60 is the new 40” – my spirits lift as I read the start of this meme on Facebook, only to fall at its ending: – “then 9pm is the new midnight”.

Sensitive to the approach of a Big Birthday next year, I reluctantly agree. Once an ardent burner of midnight oil and two-ended candles, the older I get, the earlier my bedtime. Not so for the rest of my household: we operate on three different time zones.

Sleepers

My teenage daughter follows the classic morning-sloth-cum-party-animal schedule.

I could learn a lot about sleeping techniques from this koala, encountered at Edinburgh Zoo last month

My husband, long free of nine-to-five commitments, stays up so late and sleeps in so long you’d think he was working nights. One warm, dry night in May, I was surprised by the sound of a lawnmower starting up after nightfall. Yes, he was cutting the grass in the dark. A few nights later, at midnight he leapt up from his seat in the kitchen, rubbed his hands together enthusiastically, and announced, “Right, back to work in the garden”. Gardeners’ lore states that potatoes should be planted by the light of a full moon, but he’s not growing potatoes. Still, who needs daylight when you have a headtorch?

Longing for my bed by 9pm, I’m first up every morning, yet I’m often awake for an hour or two half way through. Does that make me insomniac?

Wakers

Apparently not. It turns out my two-stage sleep has historical precedence. According to Roger Ekirch, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, this was how everyone slept until artificial lighting skewed our body clocks, encouraging us to pursue a single shift of seamless slumber. Not only did our forbears to go to bed at dusk and wake at dawn, they also got up in the middle of the night and were active for an hour or so. Many cultures and languages, including Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, refer to “first sleep” (dusk till around midnight) and “second sleep” (early hours till dawn) as if they are the norm. While to twenty-first century ears it sounds absurd for monks to celebrate Matins at 2am, to the average medieval it was a constructive use of standard waking hours.

What You Will

Those without holy orders could do what they liked between sleep stages. Activities that didn’t require illumination would be more practical – and no, not only what you’re thinking: 2am was also prime time for theft. Me, I favour a cup of tea and a biscuit, with a few chapters of a good book.

So now when I wake at 3am, I do so happily, knowing I’m simply following a classic habit enjoyed by our ancestors until relatively recently. Until I stumble across a YouTube interview with Roger Ekirch describing two-stage sleepers as “as not insomniac, but pre-industrial”. Doesn’t that make me one removed from antediluvian? Now I really do feel old.

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Posted in Personal life

Flu Fury

(My column for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

Baby Laura asleep in winter fur hat
My daughter Laura demonstrating at an early age that sleep is the best medicine

When, like a less powerful cousin of the Grim Reaper, flu stalked the village before Christmas, I was one of its victims. The first half of December passed me by in a blur.

It’s only when you’re on the mend from a nasty bug that you realise how poorly you’ve been, and what bad decisions you’ve made while unwell, e.g. being fobbed off with an unnecessary prescription for penicillin by the GP’s triage system. Continue reading “Flu Fury”

Posted in Family, Writing

The Power of the Shower

(New blog post about finding writing inspiration under a refreshing shower – an electric power shower, I mean, not English autumn rainfall!)

English: shower head Deutsch: Duschkopf mit st...
Finding creative power in the shower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grabbing a quick shower yesterday morning while my husband walked my daughter to school, my cares fell away.

My conscience was clear: my part of the early morning duties were complete:

  • breakfast prepared – check
  • school lunchbox packed – check
  • daughter’s hair brushed and plaited – check
  • her purse topped up with a pound coin for after-school Film Club – check

For a moment I could let my busy head empty as I got myself ready for work.

At least, I thought I was letting my mind just wander, but after a few moments basking with my eyes closed, I suddenly realised that flowing into my head as steadily as the water was pouring from the shower head was a whole stream (groan) of ideas for various articles I was  scheduled to write over the next few days:

  • two book reviews  (the first has since hit the ether here)
  • the theme for this month’s parish magazine column (now on paper)
  • the gist of my piece for the November issue of the Tetbury Advertiser (emailed to the editor this morning)

So quickly and easily were these ideas coming, from somewhere deep within my subconscious, that I was tempted to spend the rest of the day in the shower. At this rate, I could have written a three-inch thick novel by tea-time.

But I had to head for the office of reading charity Readathon, where I spend my weekday mornings, so I cut my shower short at 15 minutes.

Short? I hear you cry. My husband complains that even 15 minutes is far too long, though it’s nothing compared to my daughter’s record of 45 minutes. (I’d never seen anyone enjoy a shower lying down, until she did.)

Even so, considering my mind had felt drained when I stepped into the shower, I was pleased with the result – and I don’t mean just being squeaky-clean.

English: Black Bear mother and cubs in den,, h...
Hibernating black bear mother and cubs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It had been a bit like taking a restorative nap. Although I can never sleep during the day, I’m a great believer in sleeping on a problem. Rather than lie there fretting in the dark, I recommend going to bed with the unsolved challenge lodged firmly at the back of your mind, and leaving it to stew the night away. Very often, on waking, I find the problem’s been solved, as if someone’s whispered it in my ear while I was out for the count.

Which makes me wonder what miracles of creativity I could perform if I went into hibernation. If it gets much colder this weekend, I think I’ll give it a try.

If you liked this piece, you might be interested in these posts about different kinds of power:

The Power Behind the Blog: Battery Chargers

The Power of the Postage Stamp

Posted in Uncategorized

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.