The perfect...

Sleep used to be my best friend and, like all best friends, I would take it for granted. Sleep was always there. I could catch up with sleep if I needed to. It was not something that needed chasing. Like Tallulah Bankhead, sleep was easy with her affections. She came quickly to my bed.

And then, last year, I became a parent, and sleep and I lost touch with each other. Now I can only dream about the perfect night's sleep though, of course, all the dreaming must be of the day-time variety. In this state of constant fatigue, however, I have come to define the perfect night's sleep, a thing with which I suspect I shall not become reacquainted for many, many years.

The first lesson I have learned about the perfect night's sleep is that it is not achieved when one is very tired. Tiredness is a sickness and sleep is the cure but, like all medicines, it can have side-effects. You emerge from 'sleep as medicine' drugged and woozy. You emerge in need of a perfect night's sleep.

So it can come only after a sybaritic state of drowsiness, where bed becomes the most appealing place to be rather than the only place. And that bed must be your own. Over the past 10 months, I have spent nights away from my wife and child and imagined, in advance, a night unbroken by cries in the night. But it's never happened that way. No, you need your own bed covered with your own sheets; not new ones, which chafe like stiff shoes, but old ones, clean and crisp.

But this is the most important thing about the perfect night's sleep: you must enter it knowing there is nothing to trouble you on the other side. No work that must be done. And, most importantly, no darling children to be cleaned and fed and reassured. This is the great irony: the perfect night's sleep is not defined by how you become unconscious or how you stay that way, but how you come out of it, slowly and gently, with the sunlight dancing behind the curtains. As the Bard said, to sleep, perchance to dream...

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