Rant: Counting sleep

In today’s fast-paced society, you’ll often hear people chatting about how tired they are, and most of us know someone who loves to brag about how they function perfectly on just three hours of sleep each night. You could be excused for thinking that sleep was an unnecessary luxury, entertained mostly by those without something “more important” to do.

However, if you’re like me and are one of the 1 in 2000 people in Australia living with narcolepsy, this kind of talk can get a bit, well, tiring.

Narcolepsy is a real, chronic neurological disorder that turns your regular sleep/wake cycles into an exciting game of “musical sleep states”. Instead of having two distinct states (sleep at night, awake during the day) our brains will cycle randomly and frequently between the two, leaving us with both involuntary periods of sleep during the day and periods of wakefulness during the night.


Despite the fact that narcoleptics may appear to sleep more than others, our slumber is filled with exhausting dreams and we get far less deep, restful sleep than the average person. No matter how long we sleep for it will never be enough to catch up.

If you’re thinking this is some hilarious made up condition that lazy people use as an excuse to sleep all day, think again. Narcolepsy is caused by the death of specific brain cells that help to regulate sleep, and the testing is almost impossible to fake. Imagine how cranky you get when you haven’t slept well for days, multiply that by your entire life, and now appreciate how difficult it is not to break into frustrated tears every time someone suggests I could solve the problem by doing some exercise or eating gluten free (which I already do, by the way).

Of course, I do understand that other people are allowed to be tired and I don’t hold a monopoly of all the problems in the world. What really bothers me is how our society has such little respect for the fundamental role that sleep plays in our overall health. We are pushed to work longer and do more, at the expense of our physical and mental health.

I know what the consequences are for not having enough restful sleep, I live with them every day as I don’t have a choice. For those who still think that they operate well while consistently getting less than seven hours sleep, science has proven that you are delusional; your brain is operating at a sub-par level. And for those who know that their 3am Netflix binges aren’t helping their wakefulness, it’s time to switch off.

Maybe we should all just get some more damn sleep.

Words and images by Eleanor Wales.

Eleanor is participating in the Sleep In 2016, fundraising for Project Sleep, a NFP that promotes sleep health. You can donate at www.crowdrise.com/eleanorwales-sleepin2016/fundraiser/eleanorwales.

For more information about narcolepsy go to www.falling-asleep.com.