Musings on commuting and sleep deprivation

Earlier this month I read an article about chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group’s extended sick leave, which turned out to be stress-related. In the interview with the Evening Standard, Antonio Harta-Osorio talks about his battle with insomnia and says:

“I understand now why they use sleep deprivation to torture prisoners.”

Well, so do I.

Unlike the Lloyds boss, stress does not keep me awake at night, but living in the south coast and  working in Central London, I spend at least four hours a day on trains, and the amount of free time left within any 24 hours is so limited, I am constantly torn between sleeping more and doing less or sleeping less and doing more (of what I want to do when I am not at work), while risking total burnout and a desperate craving for even 30 seconds of shuteye anywhere….sitting, standing, even walking.

Two months into my new full-time job in London, life could not be have turned out more different from my days of unemployment, enforced idleness and ‘escapist’ oversleeping.

My day starts at 5.50am for catching the 7am service into London. In the evening, due to train delays and poorer train connections, I am rarely home before 8pm.

It is not unusual for me to be eating dinner at 9.30pm. With a few hours added of winding down and personal work time afterwards,  I am lucky if I can get eight hours’ sleep over two days.

Forty winks on the go
The sleep I miss during the night I try to make up for on my homebound train.

In the first few weeks, as an unpractised novice, I barely managed 10 minutes of light catnapping, before being woken by the conductor checking tickets or someone sitting down next to me. As I learned to relax more, the catnap got extended to a 20-minute uninterrupted snooze, then 30 (the conductor must have given up on me!). I am now able to expertly delve into deep sleep for 50 minutes to one hour and wake up feeling re-energised.

While comparing notes on our commutes and respective lack of sleep, a journalist friend, who travels to his office in west London from Brighton, told me he had become “quite anal” about tracking his sleeping habits and had been using an app called Sleepbot, which logs data and analyses your sleep…with stats and graphs.

Being  presented with a personal ‘sleep infographic’ showing  how awful my sleeping habits are might serve as a mild motivator to go to bed earlier, but in reality, the more stressed I am, the longer I need to stay up in order to feel I have had some quality me-time before calling it a day.

Some people find slumping in front of the telly helps relax, others may prefer to read or listen to music. I am addicted to my emails and my social networking sites, so online is where I go to unwind.

One of my biggest frustrations right now is not being able to find the time to blog, when writing is the activity that most brings me joy. Between blogging and sleeping I’d choose blogging every time. But until someone invents a pill that can replace sleeping time, sleep deprivation will always get me in the end.

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to fatigue, impair your brain function and cause weight loss or gain. I once read that when you are tired for not having had enough sleep, your body craves carbohydrates and sugars for the energy boost they can provide. No wonder I snack so much during the day.

Even at the cost of becoming a little bit stupider, fatter and uglier with ever growing dark circles under my eyes and a constantly bloated face, I can’t help pushing my body to carry on with minimum sleep and maximum achievement, and not only in my professional life.

When just travelling to and back from work takes up so much time and energy, where do you find the time to pursue your non-work activities f0r that perfect work-personal life balance?

How do you enrich your daily life when your everyday is so time poor? If you know the solution, please let me know.

Super efficiency
In contract to the slumbering mode on my journey home, I feel driven and motivated on the train into work.  I discovered that checking my (work) emails on the morning commute with a laptop and dongle is very efficient and gives me a sense of achievement. This, I find, is also the perfect time to revise my to-do lists. By the time I arrive in the office, I have already replied a few emails and set the priorities for the day.

How to keep more focussed and productive during the day despite distractions and interruptions is an issue I am still grappling with. Ideally, I would like to get so organised, I’d have the time and head space to write short blog posts during my lunch break, purely for pleasure, to be continued after dinner in the evening.

On the occasional down days, when I feel I can no longer bear the commute, I remind myself  of the alternative: I could be back in that dark hole called unemployment, where there is abundant time for sleep but no light at the end of the tunnel.

Tablets or teleportation?
I find solace in the the thought that I am not alone in this daily struggle. The vast majority of passengers on my morning and evening trains are long-distance commuters, who live in the south coast because they cannot afford a London home. We are united in our shared exhaustion and our sleep-deprived stupor.

For the amount of money I fork out every month on travel cards to Southern Railway – one of my colleagues rents a room in London for less than my train fare – one would expect seats to be fully reclinable with a complimentary pillow and blanket for an optimum sleeping experience.

My sleep obsessed Brighton friend says that if there is a company developing matter transportation he will buy shares in it. So will I. Teleportation Star Trek style is definitely the way forward.

That or a sleep replacement pill.



Filed under Coping, Long-distance commuting

5 responses to “Musings on commuting and sleep deprivation

  1. The Dog in Aus

    I am speechless….. You are a moron, 4 hrs a day on a train ?? WTF.
    No work…NO WORK, is worth that. Stuff me, get a life, do you not have a brain…..MOVE, or change your job.
    God, I will talk about “this bloke who works in London” for mths.
    Seriously, make a move, do something different,

    The Dog in Aus


    • The Dog in Aus,
      How rude! Think you’ll find you’re the moron – as you are reading a blog about long time unemployment, and flippantly say ‘change your job’ – and as for moving – so instead of commuting for a job you’d choose leaving your home, uprooting your family or leaving a loved one and leaving all your friends FOR A JOB?!


  2. Currently unemployed I’m seeking positions in London and will face the commute from Brighton each day. Others manage so I figure I will too. I was hoping that I’d be able to use the travel time to write more – do you find this is not possible?


    • Hi Susan, I used to commute from even further away than Brighton (two hours to London each way), and I used the time to a) check my work emails before I even got to the office, b) catch up on reading, c) draft blogs, etc but after a few months doing that, having had 4-5hs’ sleep and 4hs-plus of commuting everyday, it really started getting to me. Other friends of mine, who have a similar commute, also reported a deterioration in their physical and emotional health due to sheer exhaustion. Lots of people report a negative impact on their relationships at home, as you’re always tired or grumpy or both. Some still do it, regardless. I now moved to nearer London and have a 1h20min commute each way. I have to say it improved the quality of my life tremendously!


  3. Jenny

    Why not move to London? No commute, save Money and you can got out in Brighton at the weekends and get the last train back.


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