Who sleeps better? The taxi driver, businesswoman or chef?
A new survey found that a good night’s rest has a more profound impact on wellbeing than a pay rise. Lee Henry discovers how ten people from Northern Ireland fare on the sleep front.
Entrepreneur Naomh McElhatton (36), founder and director of the DANI awards lives in Belfast with her daughters Aoife-Lily (9) Eilish (7). She says:
Money will come and go but if you don’t get your sleep, you can’t function in business and in life. The silliest of things keep me awake at night. For example, if I’m just about to doze over and forget to put the girls’ PE gear in their school bags, I will wake in the middle of the night to remind myself to do that.
I try not to let work stress me out anymore. I am good at switching off. I took part in a six-week mental resilience course a few years ago and that genuinely was my saving grace. I am in the process of disconnecting from my phone and leaving it in the hall at night, and I try to read a few chapters of my book to unwind before putting my head down. After a good or a bad night’s sleep, it’s usually my dreaded alarm or my 7-year-old jumping on top of me that wakes me up. I am a morning person, so I don’t mind getting up early. In fact, I like to sneak in a 30-minute workout before the girls get up. It really does set you up for the day.
I travel quite a bit and I can honestly say I would be lucky if I got four hours straight sleep any night I’m away. With the different time zones, it does take a few days to adjust. People think it’s very glamorous travelling, but it’s not. Sleeping in a hotel room is not the same as being cuddled up in your own wee bed at home.
I love nothing more than having a good week at work, chilling with my girls on a Friday night, maybe a glass of wine, getting everyone tucked in and going to bed contented with my lot. Having a great week and knowing my babies are happy girls always brings a great sense of satisfaction and a good night’s sleep.
I had my best night’s sleep in South Africa, in a gorgeous guesthouse called Hacklewood Hill in Port Elizabeth. I was 11 weeks pregnant and we’d stayed in Johannesburg, where I encountered this rare species of cockroach, so I didn’t sleep for the duration of our stay there. Then we went to a beautiful guesthouse and it was a dream: four-poster bed, fresh cotton sheets, absolute heaven. I think I slept for ten hours that night. Mind you, there is no place like home. Having a hot bath and getting into your own bed is one of life’s simple pleasures.”
Chef Michael Deane (56) lives in Lisburn with his wife Kate and son Marco. He says:
When I was about 42, I was quite big in size. I weighed about 16 and a half stone. Now I weigh about 11 stone, but back then I was always waking up in the middle of the night, panicking in my sleep. I thought it was stress, the worry of the job.
So I went to the doctor’s thinking I had asthma, but I was actually diagnosed with sleep apnoea. It’s a horrible condition where you actually stop breathing in your sleep. Your throat closes over and you can try to swallow your tongue.
As a result, I had to sleep with an air box strapped to my face. I had to take it everywhere. On holiday, when I got to the hotel, the first thing I looked for was a plug to plug it in. It was uncomfortable, obviously, but it did give me a good night’s sleep.
As a consequence, I said to myself, ‘I’m 42 years old. I can’t continue to live like this all my life’. So I decided to make a change. I began exercising a lot, eating better. I reduced the size of my neck and over a two-year period I managed to take five and a half stone off. I went back to the clinic and the doctor said, ‘It’s impossible to cure sleep apnoea, but somehow, Michael, you don’t have it anymore.’ So my sleep now is pretty perfect, though ironically I sleep less. I get to sleep about 1am, after I finish work and get through various chores, and I’m back up again around 6.30am.
I still go the gym every day. I’ve changed my habits. But I would most definitely take a good night’s sleep over a pay rise, because I remember a time when I didn’t get any sleep at all. I used to nod off in my coffee at 11am, or in a meetin or in a bank or talking to my wife, and that’s because I was exhausted. I wouldn’t wish sleep apnoea on my worst enemy.”
West End actress Niamh Perry (27) lives in London with her fiance Ollie (32). She says:
I am definitely one of those people who needs more sleep than most. If I don’t get a good seven or eight hours sleep a night, I will usually really struggle during the day. However, the older I get, the more difficult I find it to nod off and to follow this with a peaceful and deep sleep.
My job can very often be the reason for my rubbish sleeping patterns.
When I am in a big stage show, such as Once, which I’ve just finished performing in Dublin, I really try to still have eight hours’ sleep, but sometimes it’s not that easy.
I can go from a normal schedule, where I am asleep by 11pm like most people, to doing a stage contract and be lucky if I am home by that time.
Not to mention the inevitable adrenalin comedown that for most actors/actresses means that it is at least 1am before you can even think about getting off to sleep.
I used to be the deepest sleeper. Apparently, as a child, I would be able to sleep through anything, and I also snored so much that my nickname at home was Grizzly Bear. Now, though, I rarely feel like I am in a deep sleep. In fact, sometimes I think I just doze all night.
When I am stressed, worried or in rehearsals for a job, my sleep patterns are awful. If I am due to open in a theatre production, the weeks of sleep beforehand are usually my worst.
I will wake up with new ideas for my role, anxiety about not being good enough and generally worrying about things that are out of my control.
A lot of my friends, creative or not, suffer in the exact same way.
But it’s not the end of the world. Isn’t that what coffee is for?”
Dame Mary Peters (78) won gold in the Pentathlon at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. She currently lives in Lisburn. She says:
I made a point of getting eight hours of sleep when I was starting out on my career in athletics, and I stick to that today. Sometimes I did get up to do my training at 6am, but I didn’t enjoy it. I had to work a 12-hour day, as I was still amateur at the time, and then I preferred to train in the evening.
The night before a competition, I didn’t get my eight hours. I would be very restless and nervous and in a way, I suppose, that didn’t do any harm with regards to my race but it probably made me that little bit more aggressive because you are tired and therefore in a more competitive mood.
When I won gold, my competition was over two days and I slept better the first night.
After the first day of my pentathlon, I was well in the lead, so the second night was a lot of tossing and turning because I knew that my two weaker events were coming up and that I might lose the gold medal.
These days I lose sleep over lots of things. My charity, the Mary Peters Trust, set me a challenge to try and raise £4m over four years, and I always worry about not making it. We’ve raised £65,000 so far, in just over two years. But I worry about it because it is part of my legacy and will enable young sports people to achieve their dreams.
I wouldn’t exchange a good night’s sleep for anything. I feel, at my age, that I need to have a good, restful sleep.
I don’t know how Margaret Thatcher slept for only four hours per night. I need to rest my brain but also my body. I am very active still and I feel you perform better in life having slept well.”
Personal trainer Anthony Cooley (31) lives in Belfast with his partner Brian. He says:
As a personal trainer, I know how lack of sleep can seriously affect how we function in our day-to-day lives. Anything below 7-8 hours per night can impact on our overall health, immunity and wellbeing.
Not getting enough sleep will cause you to feel drowsy, irritable or even depressed in the long term. Lack of sleep will also cause you to make unhealthy food choices, specifically those high in sugar for an energy boost throughout the day. Over time, this will obviously lead to weight gain.
Personally, I aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night but sometimes I only get around six. If I don’t get enough sleep, I definitely notice how it affects my mood from the moment I wake up, and with my workouts I lack strength and motivation. It also affects how long it takes my body to recover from them.
To tackle restlessness at night, I avoid caffeine after 7pm and try to wind down an hour or so before bed.
That means putting away those phones and tablets, as the blue light emitted from them can stimulate brain activity, meaning that by the time we try to go to sleep there is still a lot of information being processed.
Something what prevents me from sleep is the fear of not getting things done.
So I make a quick list at the start of each day of all the things I want to get done and check them off as the day goes on.
This gives me a sense of accomplishment and helps me to better organise my day, meaning I rest easier at night.
Oversleeping is something else to be aware of. Too much sleep will leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic.
I know if I get too much sleep, I spend half the day yawning and trying to wake up properly. Health-wise, getting too much sleep can cause back pain and on a more serious note can lead to the onset of diabetes and heart disease.”
Make-up artist Rebecca Bryson (31) lives in Belfast with her fiance Colm (27). She says:
I would choose a good night’s sleep over a pay raise every day of the week. I first developed insomnia in early 2017.
After a few weeks of little to no sleep, then crashing, I knew something was wrong.
At the time, I put it down to hormones due to my endometriosis. I own two businesses, which can be fairly demanding, and my mind was always buzzing with ideas and to do lists.
So lack of sleep was really difficult for me. Working at big fashion shows, or on television programmes, I can be standing all day, and I have to interact with people constantly, and that’s hard to do when you’re sleep-deprived.
Some nights I wouldn’t sleep at all. I’d lie awake all night and think that the following night I would just crash out, but no. Sometimes I would get a couple of hours but never more than four hours maximum, even after my GP had prescribed medication
It didn’t work for me, unfortunately, so I tried meditating, sleep apps, lavender oil in a diffuser and on my pillow, hot baths, stretching, keeping the room cool.
You name it, I tried it but nothing worked apart from exercise.
I started going to the gym and suddenly I realised it was only taking me 20 to 30 minutes to get to sleep each night. Aside from the obvious health benefits of working out and being active, exercise has transformed my sleeping patterns.
There are times now where I find myself lying in bed thinking about all the stressful stuff that may be going on with work — stress definitely played a big part in my insomnia — but I’ve learnt to try and quiet my mind and let it go until the morning.”
Blues musician and Radio Ulster presenter Kaz Hawkins (44) lives in Carrickfergus with her partner David (50). She says:
When I’m on the road gigging around Europe or the States, I would sacrifice a pay rise for a good sleep for sure. The rock ‘n’ roll highway is tough enough without sleep.
I don’t have a routine. My body never knows what time of day it is, between boats, flights and driving eight hours from gig to gig. I have to sleep where I sit, never mind the service station stop-offs with cardboard sandwiches and no hot meals to give you energy.
Travelling, then performing straight away, inevitably leads to sleep deprivation after a while. The days begin to roll into one. I’m an insomniac also, so I struggle to get over to sleep at the best of times, but I get even more restless in the run-up to album releases.
If I sleep, I am so much more able to deal in my career, from an organisational point of view. I don’t have great patience so a good sleep means I get so much more done.
A dear friend, Joby Fox, once told me to ‘eat and sleep well and let the universe do the rest’, but it sure is hard to keep to that.
Sleep in this modern world is a luxury. Everyone is striving to make their mark on the world and sleep is often the first thing we sacrifice, but if I was given the option to gain some back some of the sleep I’ve lost over the years, I would take it.”
Architect Shane Birney (44) lives in Londonderry with his wife Deborah, daughters Lucie and Matilda and son Stan. He says:
If I had to choose between a good night’s sleep and a pay rise, I’d so for the sleep. As I run my own business, Shane Birney Architects, if I’m not well-rested then the hours I work aren’t productive, so lack of sleep can cost me more in the long run.
I manage about seven hours a night, on average, but I sometimes work late in the evenings and sometimes into the night. Last night, for example, I worked until 2am.
When I do get to bed, thankfully I can switch off the day pretty easily, which I’m grateful for. So mainly the thing that keeps me awake at night is when my children sneak into our bed in the wee hours.
When I was a student in Scotland, I didn’t mind a lie-in but not now. If we’re away for a weekend with the kids, it’s the hotel breakfast that gets me up, bright and early.
I don’t dream about blueprints and spreadsheets, but any businessperson will tell you that you do tend to solve problems that you have been wrestling with once you switch off for a while. With that in mind, I keep a sketchpad by the bed and note things down as and when they pop up.”
Writer Jo Zebedee (45) lives in Carrickfergus with her husband Chris and daughters Becky (17) and Holly (12). She says:
I am a night owl. No matter how tired I am, I come awake around 11pm and can keep going into the wee small hours. I no longer do a morning school run, and I work from home mostly, so no rush-hour drive either, but that doesn’t help me going to bed early.
Even so, on weeknights, I aim for around midnight.
At the weekends, it will rarely be before 1am and sometimes closer to 2am. I get about six hours per night. Our alarm goes off at 7am, when my husband gallantly makes me a cuppa while I try to ignore life approaching. I listen to Radio 5 Live when waking up. It does a nice round-up of the news without getting too excitable.
I rarely lie awake thinking about storylines, although I have had the odd moment, when dropping off to sleep, when an idea came to me.
In fact, my most popular flash fiction story started like that. A line came to me — “When the shrinkies frizzled my brains” — and it was perfect. When that happens I grab my phone and text myself. In the morning, how much sense those texts make very much depends on how sleepy I was when sending it.
I generally find that I drop off pretty quickly, although general worries can crop up, as with anyone, I’m sure. But reading does help. When I do take a book to bed, I often drop off with it still in hand. Having said that, I rarely do, preferring to read before I actually hit the mattress.
I had a disturbed night last night — people up to the loo, gerbils scratching because I hadn’t closed a door fully, people coughing — and I’m feeling pretty grainy-eyed. So today, yes, I would take a good night’s sleep over a pay rise.
Having said that, money worries would be something that can keep me awake, so there would need to be a balance between still having enough money and getting enough time to sleep. But I would swap a good night’s sleep for a nice duvet day. I do like a little nap, or watching a video with the kids, curled up under a blanket.”
Taxi driver Louise Jones (49) lives in Newtownabbey with her daughter Samantha (26) and sons Christopher (22) and Joshua (16). She says:
I work night shifts, 5am to 2am, for 365 Taxis in Newtownabbey, and I finish later on the weekends, at 4am. Sleep is tough. I only get a few hours each night. When I first started taxiing about two years ago my sleep was even worse. I had to get used to the routine.
Funnily enough, worrying about sleep keeps me awake at night, but I still manage to get up early in the mornings for the school run.
I find that I sleep the best about an hour after I hit the pillow. It’s like I’m dead, I’m so exhausted. That said, personally I would choose a pay rise over a good night’s sleep. Then I could work less and sleep more. Lack of sleep does affect a lot of my colleagues.
We have to work long hours in order to earn a decent wage after all the outgoings, and driving all night is just tiring in general —driving passengers about is the most exhausting job ever.”