Why I need to sleep naked, alone, and for as long as possible

"I value sleeping alone above almost all else; the 'old-fashioned' set up of two twin beds in the marital bedroom (to ...

"I value sleeping alone above almost all else; the 'old-fashioned' set up of two twin beds in the marital bedroom (to say nothing of the exquisite heaven of two bedrooms) is my dream," writes Clem Bastow. Photo: Stocksy

On the topic of repose, I believe Ralph Wiggum said it best: "Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a Viking!"

Sleep may well be where you are a Viking, just as it might be where you write your million-selling novels (Stephenie Meyer famously dreamed up Twilight during one especially sparkly REM session), indulge in a little lucid dreaming, or just fall face first onto the mattress and drool solidly for five-to-eight hours.

If you are a woman, however, you'll need more sleep than your male counterpart, because - pause while a thousand sassy-logoed CafePress mugs explode into existence - women use more of their brains than men. 

Well, that's the word from Loughborough University's Sleep Research Center in Leicestershire, England, who conducted a study that found women needed around 20 minutes more sleep than men. The centre's former director, Jim Horne, says this is "a sign of [women] having greater brain recovery during sleep, which in turn indicates that women tend to work their cerebral cortices harder than does the age-related man."


Whether or not I work my cerebral cortices harder than any 33-year-old man is up to science to decide, but I can certainly agree on the "needing more sleep" front. Many times in my history of sharing beds with someone of the opposite sex, I have grumbled (and, on occasion, wept) because the male in the room announced it was time to get up even as I desperately wanted "just another half-hour".

It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that I value sleeping alone above almost all else; the "old-fashioned" set up of two twin beds in the marital bedroom (to say nothing of the exquisite heaven of two bedrooms) is my dream.

When J. Bryan Lowder last year wrote Against Spooning: A Manifesto, I cheered aloud. "Even if you do manage to sort out a configuration that works (for a time), the heat - the hateful, pyjama-soaking heat - will soon build to intolerable levels," he wrote. "Sleeping bodies are basically furnaces; why in the name of Egyptian cotton did we ever think it was wise to smash two of them together, especially under blankets?"

Whenever a survey or quiz contains the question "What do you want more of: sleep or sex?", my answer is and always will be, sleep. The reason I prefer to sleep alone and for a long time, however, is not necessarily because I'm a misanthrope who resents having to play big spoon. Rather, it's because I value sleep as a creative time.

Like Meyer (but with fewer sparkly vampires), I do a lot of "writing" in my sleep. I have somehow managed to train my subconscious to arrange my various scattershot ideas into something approaching a traditional three-act structure, so that when I wake up I can bang out a short story that might eventually turn into a script synopsis.

(I am aware that this scenario is more of a nightmare to many frustrated deep-snoozers for whom Jennifer Lawrence's words from Joy must ring true: "I don't want to work anything out! I just want a nice, dumb sleep!") 

As a result, my sleep isn't always restful - as anyone who has ever had a stressful, detailed dream will attest - but I certainly need a lot of it. (Officially 20 minutes more than any male writer who also likes to mentally arrange his notes while horizontal.)

Consequently, I've tried just about every old wives' tale there is to test when it comes to extending the depth, quality and amount of sleep I get. They range from the esoteric (crystals under the pillow; valerian tea) and the Elizabethan (lavender sachets) to the medicinal (melatonin at strengths from 5mg to 20mg) and the grandmotherly (hot milk drink before bed), all with varying degrees of success (and, as ever, accompanied with a flashing neon sign that reads "ymmv"; I'm no #radicalsleeplove highway robber, after all).

There are also the sleep-inducers that are accepted as "science" fact (sleeping nude to allow the body to cool more promptly; I feel the same way about pyjamas as Dita Von Teese does about sensible shoes), and those for whom the jury is still out (sleep cycle apps), to say nothing of the never ending tide of "wake up" tools, from sunrise simulators to "smart" alarms.

As I recently moved to a city flat where my bedroom window often ushers in the sweet sounds of truck exhaust brakes around 2am, I have settled of late on a combination of the following: no screens immediately before bed, ABC Classic FM on so quietly it's almost imperceptible, a noise-making app set to "rain on car roof", and (amusingly, given the previous two) earplugs.

How I - or any other person, for that matter - actually manages to get to sleep is, ultimately, immaterial. But how nice it is to be able to call on "science" the next time I need to justify hitting the snooze button for an extra 20 minutes.