Sunday, 2 April 2017

Captain Midnight: An Old and Young Father in Time

This is the 3rd morning a row that I have woken up feeling exhausted. I think I have slept OK, and my Fitbit seems to suggest that is the case too. Having woken up I feel I could just roll over and go back to sleep. However, by then, as my fellow blogger Lynn, might say, my 'whizzy brain' has fired up, and despite being tired my mind has already started the day’s journey. And as most regular readers of this blog will know, my Membership Card for the #earlyrisersclub say's 05.00 start!  There can be many reasons why people have troubled sleep and just as many cures for sleeplessness.

88 years before I was born, a young Frederick Winslow Taylor was inventing a sleeping harness that he felt would keep him on his stomach while he slept. He suffered with nightmares, and believed that the device would help him sleep peacefully throughout the night. Taylor was famous for his work on how to make organisations more efficient. His ideas around mass production and how organisations can do repetitive tasks more effectively are still in use today. For example, McDonalds provide an almost textbook case study of Taylor’s theory in action. He is known as the Father of Scientific Management.

Nathaniel Kleitman on the other hand, is known as the Father of Modern Sleep Research.  28 years after Taylor published his 144 page monograph on the Principle of Scientific Management, Kleitman published his seminal work entitled Sleep and Wakefulness. Kleitman was a phenomenal scholar. He was just 20 (and penniless) when he emigrated to the US. 8 years later he had gained his PhD from the University of Chicago, where he continued to work on improving our understanding of sleep and was responsible for introducing the concept of rapid eye movement (REM). Much of his early work was sponsored by the Wander Company, the original manufacturer of Ovaltine.

Many nurses of my generation will have a special place in their heart for Ovaltine (along with Horlicks), it was a favourite drink of those working on night shift. Allegedly nutritious, it was seen as a healthy drink that could also help you sleep when nothing else worked. Curiously, Ovaltine sponsored a TV show in 1953 called Captain Midnight, which ran for some 40 episodes and disappeared from our screens a year after I was born. Captain Midnight got his name as he was often on a mission to save the US until that time – we don’t know if he suffered with insomnia or that was just how the missions went. Interestingly, for the time (and still today), this TV show about a male superhero, always scripted women as equals and not just as characters waiting to be rescued!  

Someone who did eventually need rescuing was the philosopher Nietzsche. Just like me, 73 years ago he was also struggling with sleep. Unlike me, he was taking opium as a way to help him sleep. He once observed that 'sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day'. When that day begins and ends also seems to be important to our health and wellbeing. 20% of us are 'Night Owls', 10% are 'Larks' (most people are somewhere in-between). Now it seems that the 'Larks' have the edge when it comes to good mental health and wellbeing. As a group they report more positive feelings of wellbeing, are more conscientiousness and procrastinate less.

I do like the quietness of an early morning, which gives me time to think. 'Night Owls' on the other hand sit up late with their thoughts, reluctant to go to sleep and leave their thoughts alone by themselves. Not good. I don't follow an exercise regime, but I do take Cello, my 'ever eager to walk' dog out for 30 minutes for a walk at east twice a day. A 2014 study by Jacob Rosenberg explored the differences in peoples chronotype. A person's chronotype is the propensity for them to sleep at a particular time during a 24 hour period. He found that 'Night Owls' were more vulnerable to depression, and tend to indulge in health harming behaviours such as smoking, and/or drinking too much alcohol. 

'Night Owls' might also appear to struggle to get enough hours sleep, on average thought to be 7-8 hours a night. Going to bed late and then having to get to work for 09.00 can be difficult to manage with family responsibilities and commutes to factor in. However, it’s not all bad news for ‘night owls’. The evidence suggests that they tend to be smarter and more creative than 'Larks'. And whilst I might be struggling with my sleep patterns at present, I can't help but smile when thinking about my youngest son Joseph. He is now known as the Father of Carys Anita, born at 03.40 last Friday. My advice, for what it is worth, you might have at least 21 years of troubled sleep in front of you. And if that proves to be the case, Tesco have 50p off a jar of Ovaltine right now - enjoy!