Couples fight about it, most people don’t get enough of it, kids guarantee you’ll get less of it than ever and everyone’s got a suggestion for how you can get more of it. Let’s talk about sleep, baby…
Trying to get to sleep in Doha is a nightmare.
The hyper early mornings (oh the joys of a 5.30am alarm, to be on time for the start of school/work at 7) mean that the first step to getting enough sleep is to try and hit the sack in good time the night before.
Rock n’ roll, it is not.
And that’s assuming you can get an uninterrupted night’s sleep in the first place.
I’m not telling you anything new by pointing out that nothing does for a peaceful night like becoming a parent.
Yes, yes, the joys of new human life, the blank canvas of possibility, the unending horizons of opportunity, a bond like no other you’ll ever experience, totally our choice, I get all that… but man alive, is it too much to ask for some peace and quiet every once in a while?
As parents, Mrs LC and I have, in the grand scheme of things, been relatively lucky. The parental bed is not used as a kids playground from first light – we put the kibosh on that a long time ago.
Nor are middle of the night interruptions encouraged, either – but that still doesn’t stop them. From Amnesiac’s “itchy toe”, to Kid A hyperventilating about gurgling sounds coming from the bathroom, we are not the most sympathetic of audiences.
Are you on fire? No? Then get back to bed.
But even if by some miracle the kids were angelic mutes, there’s plenty of other sounds to disturb the peace.
As a kid growing up in the English countryside, the soundtrack to my bedtimes was from the natural world; all owls and tree branches rustling in the wind.
It wasn’t until years later, when we discovered that the soundtrack to send an overtired Kid A off to sleep happened to be the noise from our frantic washing machine, that I finally began to appreciate the power of white noise.
There will be those of you reading this who cannot abide any white noise at all. If that’s you, then I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that life in a Muslim country in the desert is probably not for you.
That’s partly because the relentless heat means that the air con rumbles on all night – the system installed in our villa makes a noise roughly on a par with the shuttle launch – and partly because even the deepest night’s sleep could be broken by the first call to prayer of the day (just after 4am this week).
The nearest mosque isn’t even 100 yards away. We have a clear view of the minaret from our bedroom, so I’ve had to learn to tune the muezzin out as he gets underway each morning.
You’d think it would be quiet at night here. We’re not under the flightpath. There are no trains (but they’re working on that), precious few birds and no rain.
Just not cricket
But no. Since we returned from our summer holiday, determined to get into some better sleep habits, we’ve been thwarted by nature.
A leg-rubbing grasshopper or cricket moved into our end of the compound and spent three weeks alerting the whole cricket community to its presence.
As the evenings become cooler (this is a relative term; it’s still above 30C at bedtime) and we are able to sit outside for increasingly longer periods – sometimes up to five, maybe even six minutes – the sound quickly grated.
I don’t want to call it prematurely, but I think it got what it was looking for and has since either moved on or passed on.
But whilst it was active, it made a sound that cut through everything else. So to counteract this additional sonic assault, we fought fire with fire.
Yes, the solution to more noise is…even more noise.
Coming from a rain-infested swamp of an island, I have fallen asleep more times than I care to remember to the sound of rain falling outside.
Without getting too psychoanalytical about it, being safely tucked up in bed whilst the worst of the elements rage around you outside is an enormously comforting sensation.
But I live in the desert now. I may never fall asleep to the pitter patter of precipitation ever again, right?
Wrong. Because there’s an app for that.
Yes, our nights are now augmented by the definitive sound of home: rain.
Mrs LC and I had a fun evening (no, really) comparing the available rain simulation apps, eventually choosing the free and customisable Infinite Storm.
You can mix your own rain blend (I’m not making this up) to add in more or less thunder, alter the speed or the surface it’s striking. Then just select one of its laidback timer settings (“about an hour” or “about three hours”) and off you go.
It may sound crazy, but it’s working a treat: we’re getting to sleep quicker and waking up more refreshed.
It’s certainly helped us get back in the work / school routine. (He said smugly, sat at his desk in the quiet end of town). But whilst things may be getter at night, Doha’s mornings have deteriorated significantly over the past few weeks.
Major, lengthy, seemingly uncoordinated roadworks have brought Doha to a near-standstill this month. You practically need a helmet and shield when you open up Twitter on a weekday morning, such is the rage and frustration being vented daily.
Add to that the thousands of new cars on the roads every month and a general lack of enforcement for motoring offences like blocking junctions or using the pavement as a road, and you have a recipe for chaos.
Perhaps having everyone heading for work all at exactly the same time is not the smartest idea in history. But until Qatar is more comfortable (and I’m aware there are notable exceptions) with concepts like flexible, remote or part-time working, the rush hour madness will only escalate.
Office workers are setting out ever earlier each morning to try and beat the rush. Commuter stress levels are rising…all of which makes getting a good night’s sleep more crucial than ever.
Mrs LC has always valued her sleep more than me (I am a 100% mornings person). But cruelly, she’s the one with the job that requires her to be on the road – and stuck in Carmageddon – by 6.30 am.
And at night it’s Mrs LC who can hear the myriad sounds, because I am basically half deaf (nothing to do with my advancing years; everything to do with an untreated childhood infection that slowly wasted away the hearing bones in one ear).
So whether you drink herbal tea, use Nytol or melatonin, play Candy Crush, fire up the noise-cancelling headphones, have your own somnambulent sound app or have switched to using two single duvets instead of a double, please don’t have nightmares.
If you still can’t sleep, try reading. I recommend Don DeLillo’s White Noise. A satire on consumerism, chemicals and the fear of death, it’s one of my favourite novels (and far funnier than I’ve made it sound).
Or if some late night music’s your thing, try The Airborne Toxic Event. They take their name from White Noise, but that’s not the only reason to love them. They’re in Europe for the next couple of weeks – you should check them out.