In the public imagination, MPs are lazy: sitting around all day on the green benches or otherwise skiving-off completely.
The reality is that most MPs – and especially those in ministerial and leadership positions – have punishing schedules. They’re not alone, of course. Somewhere along the way, it’s come to be expected that ‘top people’ should work every waking hour and keep the sleeping ones to a minimum.
Margaret Thatcher famously got by on five hours sleep a night. Profiles of Theresa May describe her working on her red boxes until two o’clock in the morning. In his recently published autobiography, Nigel Farage says that he’s lucky to get more than four hours a night – though he does admit it’s taking a toll:
“Of all the times that I have done Question Time, which was probably the nearest I had got to doing a live television debate, I don’t recall ever doing it when I felt well, or having any energy.”
According to a piece by Travis Bradberry for Quartz, the sacrifice of sleep is a false economy:
“According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, the short-term productivity gains from skipping sleep to work are quickly washed away by the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on your mood, ability to focus, and access to higher-level brain functions for days to come. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep.”
As I recall, the last senior politician to be accused of being drunk on the job was removed from it, yet we tolerate – and even insist upon – chronic sleep deprivation.
Perhaps this is because we’ve become sleep deprived as a society:
“…more than half of Americans get less than the necessary seven hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
“For go-getters, it’s even worse.
“A recent survey of Inc. 500 CEOs found that half of them are sleeping less than six hours a night. And the problem doesn’t stop at the top. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of US workers get less than six hours of sleep each night, and sleep deprivation costs US businesses more than $63 billion annually in lost productivity.”
The consequences go far beyond feeling tired all the time:
“Sleep deprivation is linked to a variety of serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, type two diabetes, and obesity. It stresses you out because your body overproduces the stress hormone cortisol when it’s sleep deprived.”
When tabloids feature before-and-after photos that document the rapid ageing of politicians in office, we tend to put it down to the weight of responsibility. However, the heaviness of eyelids is also to blame:
“While excess cortisol has a host of negative health effects that come from the havoc it wreaks on your immune system, it also makes you look older, because cortisol breaks down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic…”
As if all of that weren’t enough, lack of sleep is also linked to weight gain – something else that visibly plagues the political classes.
Cynics will point out that this is a life they’ve chosen for themselves. Top-flight politics, like the upper-reaches of any profession, is a tough gig, but no one is being forced to do the job. Then again, somebody has to do it – and thus the real question is this: Do we want the people making important decisions on our behalf to be well-rested and clear-minded, or should we keep them sick, stressed-out and exhausted?