Blog Courtesy of Joanne Dowds, clinical specialist physiotherapist and whiskey tasting enthusiast.
Sleep, we all spend (hope to at least) about one-third of our time in the land of nod. But getting quality sleep, the right amount when you need it is as important as food or water. Way back in the early noughties a reality tv show aired (C4 where else), participants were challenged to go without sleep for as long as possible. They lasted 197 hours; the world record is just over 11 days. Sleep deprivation can cause fatigue, moodiness, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, difficulty in learning, depression, hallucinations, weight gain, and increased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, in addition to functional problems like poor balance. Sleep deprivation is considered a mechanism of interrogation and in some cases torture.
There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep (which has three different stages). Each is linked to specific brain waves and activity which you cycle through several times during a typical night, with increasingly longer, deeper REM periods occurring toward morning. Dreaming happens in REM sleep. Everyone dreams, I have and always have had, vivid dreams and nightmares. I can still wake up from a dream and need to reason myself back to reality. And I am particularly susceptible to notiony dreams, I have been known to dream in French with subtitles when I can barely order a coffee, S’il vous plait, after watching too much random foreign language rom-coms on Netflix ( not as highbrow as it sounds ). I am also a mover in bed. I regularly topple out of bed for non-fun reasons- I will never be a top bunk person.As an adult most people settle somewhere between 7-9 hrs a night, with the occasional 10 hrs thrown in on a Sunday! Recently as part of a charitable drive for Depaul( The World’s Big Sleep out), I, along with a few hundred companions, slept rough, well as rough as you can get in the grounds of a university where you are welcome, safe, have access to portaloos and a kettle. As someone who loves their bed, doesn’t like physical discomfort, I was interested in how sleeping rough would affect me. I was absolutely dreading it. I left my warm, dry house on Saturday evening with 3 bags of clothing, equipment and snacks; I really felt I was as prepared as I could be.
The entertainment that was put on was moved forward an hour because of concerns about the weather, so we knew it was going to be a wild night. By 9.30pm on a Saturday night in December I kitted myself up for bed. I was dressed in 3 pairs of socks, leggings, trackie pants, vest, t-shirt, hoodie, jumper, in a sleeping bag, in a survival bag ( bivvy bag- new term for me) on 2 foam mats, on a plastic sheet on the grass. I also had a hot pack. Like I said, prepared. As we lay down, I plugged myself into a pod cast series and thought to myself that it was manageable … that sensation probably lasted 10 mins. It was a wet, stormy night. I barely slept and each time I looked at my clock, I calculated how long before l could respectably leave. I think in total, I wasn’t awake for just over an hour in the stretch til 6am when the event ended. It wasn’t what I would call sleep, more that I was so bone crushingly tired I dropped into unconsciousness for a short time before the wind or fresh rain or traffic noise woke me again.
Obviously it was cold, wet and uncomfortable. I was ready for that. I did not appreciate, in advance, that my eyes would be sore and dry, the skin on my face would be raw, that my jaw would ache because I was enduring the physical discomfort by clenching my teeth. Despite all my preparation and kit, by the early hours of the morning nothing I had was dry. My rucksack wasn’t waterproof, my spare clothes and shoes were saturated which meant I squelched home, grateful to be able to get warm, comfortable and dry by 6.30am. After a few hours in my own bed, I felt out of sorts, tired obviously, but dopey and slow to make decisions while craving high fat foods. It was deeply unpleasant but hugely rewarding; we raised awareness and a good sum for a very worthwhile cause.
We were safe, we were welcome, we were prepared, we had facilities, we were able to look forward to getting into our own beds afterwards, it was still a much shittier experience than I expected. A stiff back, a few chilblains and a snotty nose are a small price to pay for a hefty dose of reality. However bad you think being a rough sleeper is, and I thought I had a fair idea, the reality is much worse.
** Joanne is still taking donations at https://www.justgiving.com/WorldsBigSleepOutDublin2019-JoanneDowds