The Confessions of a Sleep Addict
By Grant Gillespie
Tuesday 11th May, 2010
People are addicts. Even those who turn down everything you offer because of their self-diagnosed ‘addictive personalities’. ‘I’d love to have a drink/ coffee/ smoke, but I can’t,’ they insist, ‘if I had one I’d never stop!’ Don’t be fooled, their ‘dependence’ is on ruining perfectly promising dinner parties. Most of us are more game however and grab whatever’s on offer only to turn round one day and discover – in true 39 Steps style – that we’re handcuffed to a habit. Then we’re obliged to take another 12 Steps in an attempt to unshackle ourselves.
Our addiction options – in the 21st Century fashion – are of course endless: drugs of all degrees, drinks of all flavours, even homeopathy and healthy eating can become an unhealthy obsession. I won’t pretend that I haven’t dabbled in them all – except exercise – and I only ever refused a drink once. I’d misheard the question. But I can safely say that I’m not addicted to anything obvious. My personal fix, my crutch, my panacea – is sleep. Where some people are heavy drinkers, I’m a heavy sleeper. And I love it. If narcolepsy were contagious I’d dry hump a dyssomniac.
When people ask me what I do for a living, invariably I shuffle my feet and admit ‘I do like to take a lot of sleep.’ I ‘take’ sleep like other people take vitamins, in big handfuls. Twelve hours a night (or day) is good, but thirteen plus is better. My unrivalled personal-best in terms of staying-power was on New Year’s Day this year, when I slept for thirty-three hours. Admittedly I did wake up twice during that period for a pee and a yoghurt, but hey, I think even a sleep purist wouldn’t penalize me for that.
I’m not lazy though, not at all. I’m actually a busy sleeper. I laugh, and chat and do lots of activities in my sleep. When I’ve dabbled in day jobs I’ve even been known to work on into my nights. In my twenties I was a world-weary shop assistant in Calvin Klein, spending my days re-tidying clothes rails and rearranging jumpers and my long-term girlfriend would be regularly woken up by me folding her up ready to go back on a shelf.
Then, when I took a job in an office, she’d watch me diligently using our horizontal bedroom blinds as a filing cabinet. It didn’t stop here. When we moved in together – she was a glutton for a somnambulist’s punishment – I spent two days taking boxes of books up the stairs. That night I awoke to the sound of the front door clicking closed behind me and I found myself naked in the communal hallway. Clearly I was off to collect another box, which I was still obliged to do – an empty one from the pavement, which I wore to cover my modesty. I then banged on our door, praying that my new neighbours didn’t respond before my girlfriend. And when eventually she did wake up, and let me in, with the true defensiveness of a sleepwalker I pretended that standing in a hall wearing a box was a perfectly normal activity for four o’clock on a Wednesday morning.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Look, do you mind if I come in?’
Of course my sleep addiction has also got me into trouble of a different kind. I have issues with the term ‘oversleeping’ as it has negative connotations. But, as it’s accepted into common parlance, I’ve used the phrase ‘I’m sorry I overslept’ more times than I can remember. I missed so many lectures at university that I resorted to placing a bucket of water by my bed. The idea was that I use it to threaten myself with when my alarm went off. ‘Either get up, or dunk your head!’ Inevitably I did neither and dropped back off to sleep. Two girls in my halls of residence kindly volunteered to bang on my door every morning and wake me up, but my body betrayed me. ‘I’m, up I’m dressed. Set off I’ll catch you up!’ I’d hollar, whilst still fast asleep, until one day they got the cleaner to let them in and saw me shouting from under the covers.
I ran a bookshop for a while in Glasgow and often slept through opening up. One time I foolishly answered the phone, whilst still under the influence.
‘Where are you?’
‘I’m in the shop!’
‘I’m calling you at home!’
That’s a wake up call.
To combat this perpetual sleeping through appointments I bought a clock that simulated sunrise. I thought that it was a SAD lamp too and that maybe my oversleeping was a winter thing. It turned out not to be a SAD lamp and was really just a hugely expensive digital watch with a bulb attached. Predictably enough it failed to rouse me, so I still rely on several alarm clocks too far out of reach to hit the snooze button in my sleep.
The latest invention I’ve heard of that might help is an ‘app’ on the iPhone (Ed: read all about Sleep Cycle here.). Apparently it monitors your sleeping pattern and then wakes you when you are in the dreaming cycle, which is the lightest mode of sleep. I’m not convinced I even do light sleep, but it’s worth a try. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see it as a problem as such, I happen to like my beauty sleep and I could give up when ever I wanted, man, I just have to stay awake long for long enough to try.
A professional actor and writer who lives in Soho, London.
His first novel, The Cuckoo Boy, was published by To Hell with Publishing on May 6th, 2010.
The Cuckoo Boy charts the quiet destruction a suburban childhood might sometimes, unexpectedly, wreak.
Armed with the wrong set of circumstances, is there anything a child isn’t capable of?
James has landed in the wrong nest. Adopted by well-meaning parents who are anxious to conform, he enters a family where any wrong can be righted by a half-hearted trip to church, cake, vacuuming or, if all else fails, denial. Stifled by shepherd’s pie and scones, James’ imagination comes to the rescue in the form of David, an invisible friend, conspirator and agitator. Then James meets a real life David whose gentle spirit soothes the turbulent and unsettling effects of his make-believe world. But as James becomes more sociable he also becomes more vulnerable.
Once hurt, his revenge leads to an act which shocks his community and breaks the hearts of his parents.
Grant Gillespie’s beautifully observed and disturbing parable shows just how destructive normal can be.
You can buy Grant Gillespie’s fabulous new book at the Book Depository.