To sleep, perchance to dream on…

Do the health police practise what they preach? Do they subsist on a diet of muesli, fresh fruit and egg-sized potatoes? Do they take regular, pulse-raising exercise? Do they abjure all injurious substances, such as unskimmed milk? Do they avoid known hazards such as supermarket trolleys and sunshine?

The evidence is contradictory. On the one hand, the medical advisers who appear on TV news bulletins to lecture us about the dangers of Scotch beef and to pronounce sorrowfully upon the inevitable consequences of putting sugar in tea are all, the women excepted, pleasingly bald and overweight. On the other hand, there is no gainsaying the extraordinary reproductive powers of the wowsers.

The latest manifestation of this astonishing ability to go forth and multiply is yet another organisation whose sole purpose is to spread fear and alarm among the multitude in the pursuit of its self-imposed goal. This new body goes by the name of the British Sleep Foundation, which is quite imposing for an outfit still in nappies. No doubt its members yearn for the day when they will preen themselves beneath the coat of arms of the Royal Institution for British Sleep, but mere foundation will do to be getting on with.

One has to admit it’s got off to a good start. First, its members commissioned an opinion poll with the aim of substantiating their own views and, since it is the first law of polling that whoever pays for the research gets the results they desire, they were not disappointed.

The figures flowed fast and frightening: one in ten people have fallen asleep behind the wheel; tiredness is responsible for many work injuries; a third of Britons say they have sleep-related problems; the average person now sleeps for just seven hours a night compared with the nearly nine in the early part of the century; snorers are harming themselves; we are all doomed.

Co-founder of the BSF Professor Neil Douglas of the University of Edinburgh, says: “The results of the survey were, alas, all too predictable.” Don’t you just love that “alas”? In truth, had the results shown that we are a nation of Rip Van Winkles, it would have been cause for a thousand pities up in Edinburgh since the British Sleep Foundation would have faced the sorry task of strangling itself at birth.

As it is, it can proceed with the blood-curdling stuff, to wit, we are a nation of morons. The logic goes something like this: the main function of sleep is brain recovery; we are missing out on an hour of sleep every night; that means we lower our IQ by one point the following day; so someone with an average IQ of 100 who struggles to get by on five or six hours a night, will be a “borderline retard” by the end of the working week.

Leaving aside the glaring political incorrectness of the term “retard” (the acceptable phrase is a “a person with borderline learning difficulties”), the figures also show that anyone who persists in falling below the BSF’s prescribed quota, will rapidly achieve an IQ measured as an ascending minus figure.

This concept of an increasing zero intelligence takes us into the realms of philosophy, relativity, and much else besides, or would if we were not all too moronic to contemplate, let alone comprehend, such matters due to a lack of sleep.

The BSF’s argument has a superficial attraction since it explains so much. People who drink beer from the bottle, drop litter in the streets, throw tantrums behind the wheel or in shops when they are asked to queue; people who read The Sun, watch television, or fail to wash; men who wear their hair in ponytails, women who wear leggings – all are not getting enough sleep and therefore are embarked on the steep descent into moronhood.

So what is the answer? More sleep, I hear you cry. If only it were that simple. Harken unto the British Sleep Foundation: “Even people spending nine or ten hours in bed may not be getting enough sleep because of breathing difficulties.”

These boys may be fresh to the scare-mongering game, but they play like veterans. Too little sleep and you are a retard; three hours more a night and it’s probably doing you no good because you are not breathing properly. And don’t think a stiff nightcap will help, we all know where that leads.

True to the long line of hectoring prodnoses in whose footsteps it treads, the BSF will not settle for anything less than a recasting of society, in this case the marketing driven “24-hour society”, which claims the wakeful ness of people who should be in the arms of Morpheus, recharging their brain cells in readiness for a short day tomorrow.

This scare should run and run, a worthy successor to the great obesity scandal, which, as it unfolded, revealed that the number of people who are clinically overweight is constantly doubling.

Prepare yourself, then, for solemn BBC news items warning of the growing dangers of a lack of kip. Even now the Corporation’s archivists will be scouring the library for footage of people sleeping and snoring. Footage of morons not sleeping, though more apt, might easily be mistaken for a football crowd and therefore mislead the viewers, who, being extremely tired and irritable, would be in no mood to be further confused.

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