My wife sleeps with Dracula. And she’s not entirely happy with this arrangement.
In our courtship years, there were physical clues, such as the greasy black hair and the canine teeth that can, in a certain light, suggest she married a Great Dane. But my true identity was revealed when we started sleeping together and I turned into Vlad the Impaler.
As darkness falls, I often rise from my slumber with the sudden, gothic horror of the late Christopher Lee and the wild hair of Beetlejuice. It’s a terrifying sight. Barely awake, I reach for my phone beside the bed. My wife reaches for a crucifix. One night, in her sleepy state of delirium, she will kill me.
If sleep is the elixir of life, then insomnia is the pain in the arse.
For almost a quarter of a century now, I’ve turned towards the contented, dreaming woman beside me and resisted the urge to flick her in the face. I envy her sleeping beauty. She nods off within seconds. I hear the relentless ticking of the clock on the bedroom wall and genuinely wonder if I’ll ever sleep again.
I’ve tried every mental remedy. I count sheep. I count former lovers (not enough). I count people I’d like to see removed from the planet (too many, the tyrants of murderous dictatorships alone are a week’s worth of sleepless nights).
I plot the perfect murder (don’t fear for my sanity. I write crime thrillers. And in case you’re wondering, it’s still an assassin on a motorbike. The helmet reduces the visibility and there’s no DNA evidence left at the crime scene. All I need to do now is get a motorbike into North Korea.)
I have everything worked out, except the ability to close my eyes.
It’s chicken and egg stuff. Does the insomnia fuel the anxiety or does the anxiety aggravate the insomnia?
My restless, pinballing brain suspects a combination of the two, but that self-awareness doesn’t make sleep arrive any sooner. So I usually return to my theoretical assassination of Kim Jong-Un. The fear of sleep deprivation is real and omnipresent.
Without eight or nine hours deposited in the sleep bank every night, I struggle to function.
As a teenager, I worked in Iceland… not the country, but a British supermarket that specialises in frozen food. With a raging hangover, I once fell asleep in the freezer whilst taping up a broken box of sausages. The supervisor found me snoozing with a beef sausage in my hand. He almost fired me for self-abuse.
It’s a serious problem. Sleep depravation damages the economy, as well as beef sausages. In 2016, the think tankI Rand Europe suggested that sleeplessness was costing Britain 200,000 lost working days and around GBP40 billion a year. The calculation was based on absenteeism and reduced productivity. The latter certainly affects me, especially now.
The body can be bluffed, but not the brain. Stocking sausages is one thing, but drafting a chapter of a novel with a weary head banging more times than an ah beng at Mambo Jambo requires a different kind of sleep altogether.
I struggle to write anything worth reading without at least eight hours sleep, which triggers the anxiety and increases the likelihood of insomnia. The fear perpetuates the restlessness. The vicious circle endures.
To compound matters, I’m not Donald Trump, obviously. I can’t survive on four hours sleep a night. But he can, apparently. He brags about it. So did Margaret Thatcher. The late British leader functioned on just three hours. I need double, even treble, that amount of sleep or I’ll wander around the next day like a brutal savage: cruel, uncaring, selfish and insensitive to those around me.
Trump and Thatcher on the other hand…
But Trump really bothers me. He haunts my sleeplessness. His Cheezel-coated face glows down at me from the ceiling. I lie in the darkness, listening to the faint thrum of the air-conditioner and wondering why the infernal machine can’t stop the clamminess trickling into my boxer shorts and I loathe myself for failing where Trump claims to succeed. I don’t want to think about Trump in the small hours whilst wearing sweaty boxer shorts. Nothing is healthy about that scenario.
Of course, I’m not alone. Insomnia affects so many of us it’s become big business. The sleep industry is worth GBP30 billion globally, according to The Guardian. Sleep trackers, self-help books, herbal remedies and pillows with more feathers than a Mardi Gras parade all guarantee a nightly trip to nirvana.
In desperation, I spent almost a month’s salary on a mattress that seemed to promise a cure for insomnia, back pain, climate change and Brexit. But nothing really changed, except I now toss and turn thinking about the price of the bloody mattress.
And that’s the other, bizarre side effect of insomnia. When the sleep is so snatched, shallow and intermittent, the dreams become weirder and more vivid, essentially turning 10-minute snoozes into David Lynch vignettes.
Honestly, my dreams are a rojak mishmash of Twin Peaks, The Elephant Man and Phua Chu Kang.
It’s a nightmare in South Korea, too, where insomnia is so prevalent, they even have a term for the sleep- deprived industry: sleeponomics.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development, South Koreans sleep 40 minutes less than the global average. So they spend GBP1.4 billion on sleep-related products.
Singapore is no better. In 2014, a Jawbone survey showed that the sunny island was a sleepy one, being the third-most sleep-deprived city (after Tokyo and Seoul). Overlong working hours, financial and educational stress and job insecurity have all contributed to us spending less time in the sack.
But it’s the internal demands rather than the external pressures that usually stop me from nodding off. The incorrigible demon of creativity does my head in. He can’t stop by in the middle of the day when I’m sitting at my laptop, devoid of inspiration. No. He’s got to visit at 3am to point out that a motorbike leaves tyre tracks at a murder scene and CCTV cameras could easily capture the assassin’s number plate and I must immediately fix these glaring plot holes.
So I sit bolt upright. Dracula returns. My wife screams. I apologise and leave the bedroom in search of a notepad. I may eventually cure my insomnia, but I suspect there’s more chance of me devising the perfect murder first.