My first Weekly Challenge (I’m trying something new every week) was, for me, a gargantuan test – sleep. So, for the last seven days I have been thinking, reading and generally attempting lots of R.E.M-tastic, unconscious, life-giving, dream-inducing, stress-relieving zzzs.

Why focus on sleep? Because it’s one of the activities at which I am terrible, and I know that in this wired world I am not alone. Burning the candle at both ends has been a mainstay of my life so far. I am a natural lark who is incapable of a lie-in, I avoid cat naps like they are poison, have sneered at the traditional 8 hours sleep for as long as I can remember, and wake up almost every night after severe anxiety dreams. All that must end, it is time for a healthier outlook! If I’m truly to embrace the flux I need my wits about me, and if there is to be any self-improvement derived from this year, it will be immeasurably enhanced by a better relationship with sleep.

One week? Do me a favour…
Now, I know that conquering sleep in one week is a crackers notion, so I’ll come clean: this first Weekly Challenge was more about admitting a problem, shedding some light and providing some pointers for development over the coming year. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to sleep better, given the choice?

Sleep week: how did it go?
Suffice to say, I have crashed out A LOT (at least 8 hours a day) this week AND learned some interesting snippets about current thinking from the experts which will definitely inform how I view sleep going forwards. I now have a strategy for sleep (of which more later), and already feel like I’ve turned a minuscule corner. Through all that I read, there were two things that jumped out as startling:

WE DON’T UNDERSTAND THE TRUE FUNCTION OF SLEEP
It’s true. There are plenty of theories, but no one really knows. Go on, Google it now, I dare you, it’ll make your brain explode. Sure, scientists have proved that we’d probably drop dead without it, and it also allows our body to repair/grow and our brain to assimilate information – but that is all we really know! And we spend so long doing it! Craze balls.

And then just when I thought it was safe to go back under the duvet I discovered this:

OUR CONVENTIONAL SLEEP ROUTINE IS NEITHER NATURAL NOR EFFECTIVE
Only relatively recently have we evolved into indulging in a once-a-day ‘monophasic’ sleep pattern, and it isn’t natural. Seriously. And there’s tons of research to back this up. Leading sleep scientist Dr Claudio Stampi believes we’re actually much more at home with a ‘polyphasic’ sleep routine, and Stampi coached Ellen MacArthur to be able to sleep in no more than 15-30 minute bursts for the duration of her record-breaking round-the-world sailing mission, so I’ll take that. I mean, the more you think about it, the less one big sleep makes sense – can you imagine our hunter-gatherer selves dossing down for a full eight hours?

But you don’t even have to go back that far. In his book about American sleep The Slumbering Masses Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer points out that a polyphasic approach was regulation before the nasty capitalists came along:

“Americans, like other people around the world, used to sleep in an unconsolidated fashion, that is, in two or more periods throughout the day.” They went to bed not long after the sun went down. Four or five hours later, they woke from their “first sleep” and rattled around—praying, chatting, smoking, or making love. (Benjamin Franklin reportedly liked to spend this time reading naked in a chair.) Eventually, they went back to bed for their “second sleep.”

With those two bombshells discovered this week, I slept a lot easier(irony!). I became rather enamoured with sleep science and research, devising my own Sleep Strategy (which I will blog shortly) as well as reading the highly practical Tired but Wired by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, before literally stumbling across this fascinating New Yorker article and then opening the newspaper and spying yet another piece, this time in the Guardian. Sleep in this wired world, it seems, is a bit like sex at high school – everyone’s talking about it, but no one’s getting any.

My own Sleep Strategy, devised from all this research, to follow – watch this space!