Dr Michael Mosley suffers from chronic insomnia. For anyone familiar with his particular brand of documentary making, this won’t come as a surprise: who wouldn’t struggle to sleep knowing that they were going to expose themselves to tear gas, ingest cocktails of mood-altering drugs or swallow a tapeworm cyst in the name of science and entertainment? The pay-off has been some great, Reith- lite television, the latest of which was The Truth About Sleep (BBC One).
His mission was to examine the deleterious toll of insufficient sleep on the body, then to rustle up some fixes. The first bit made depressing viewing: as a nation, we’re getting less sleep, and what we do get is of a lower quality, as modern life tilts ever more towards working practices and technology seemingly designed to disrupt sleep patterns. Mosley’s chums in academia produced alarming evidence of links with obesity and type 2 diabetes, while a GP conceded that sleeping pills were a dangerously easy option for doctors and patients under considerable stress. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it appears that insomnia can also be genetic.
Most enlightening was Mosley’s encounter with an Oxford professor who had discovered we have several different body clocks working at once, and occasionally in opposition to each other. Awkward Big Ben metaphors notwithstanding, this was fascinating stuff of which I could have done with more, perhaps instead of the many ad hoc (and surely unscientific) experiments with members of the public.
Many of the solutions were common sense, but still worth repeating: sleep in a cool room with plenty of natural light, avoid booze and caffeine, switch off the smartphone at least an hour before bed. Others were a little more eccentric: mindfulness or a dinner rich in fibre, I understood, but eating two kiwi fruit every night before bed on the basis of apparently anecdotal evidence seemed a bit much, even if you’re an insomniac.