We have spent the past two weeks with our family in Scotland including two children under five.* They are a delight to be with. We can say that wholeheartedly...but that is partly because we do not have to get up to comfort them in the middle of the night! When your night’s sleep is interrupted and shortened by their crying for some attention night after night, this picture of little angels becomes rather more nuanced. We’re not too old to forget the exhaustion from dealing with sleepless infants!
But it is not only children that cause sleep deprivation. We have one friend who simply wakes up for a couple of hours when the new day is still some way off and just cannot get back to sleep. We have other friends who lie awake for hours worrying about a loved one who may be very sick or in some kind of trouble. Others may simply be kept awake by the pain they experience and wonder how they will get through the following day or days.
Money worries, career twists and turns or responsibilities at work can all take their toll on sleep. The list of causes of insomnia is endless. There is of course that blessed minority who fall asleep when their head hits the pillow and who are barely disturbed even by a pneumatic drill outside the window. But many of us know the distortions and exaggerations of the night if not always its terrors.
Some people seem to manage pretty well on maybe four or five hours sleep. Many politicians or people in senior positions of authority often have to manage on that in order to keep on top of their heavy workload. But most of us do better if we have a bit more than that. We all will have excused some irritable behaviour on our part by reference to a shortened night.
Not only can tiredness literally kill in a road accident but sleeplessness can kill metaphorically too by a gradual wearing down of the spirit. We lose our capacity to be alert, to accept responsibility, to take initiatives, even to experience joy in the wonders of life. The Jewish writer, Chaim Potok, said in one of his novels: ‘Tiredness is of the Devil’. Tiredness can make us less than our best selves.
When we are confronted by someone whose manner is abrupt, rude, or simply lacking in those simple graces which make the world go around, it is worth wondering if this is the best version of this person or whether perhaps they are troubled by nights (or days) which offer no respite. It is worth wondering whether we can offer a few moments of our time or even simply our attention in order to soften a little the rough edges of their day.
‘Have a good day’ is a greeting which we have picked up from our American cousins. It’s a useful addition to our vocabulary. We sometimes do well to wish each other a good night too. They are inseparably linked.
So sleep tight – mind the bugs don’t bite!
* Those who were following our blog a year ago may remember we wrote about the birth of our youngest grandson. Dominic has had a number of health challenges in his early weeks and months of life and continues to do so. But he is an absolute delight and last week, we celebrated his first birthday! If you're a friend of our daughter-in-law you can see him in all his glory on her FaceBook page!