Amy Jenkins: Sleep deprivation and a world turned on its head

Post-poll disorder

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What a day yesterday was. Politics in a pickle and no one in my household had slept a wink. By 10am, just the sight of David Dimbleby's face was enough to bring on covert overwrought weeping and the longing for a father figure. (Why can't he just run the country, I couldn't help thinking.)

I wasn't the only one feeling tired. This has been an election of the sleep-deprived. Brown struggled through the final TV debate with eyes as pink as a startled rabbit's – no doubt he'd been kept up all night by Bigotgate. Then Cameron pulled his famous all-nighter, a piece of stunt electioneering if ever there was one, while Clegg has been saying his greatest health fear is sleep deprivation. (His mother thinks he looks tired when she sees him on telly.) I'm not surprised.

Stress, anxiety, adrenalin, cortisol – these are all the enemies of sleep. I should know, not having slept much for three nights. Have I been tirelessly campaigning? Have I been touring the country on a battle bus? No, sorry, nothing glamorous. I've just been really, really anxious. On Tuesday night, I did a spot of canvassing for Sadiq Khan in his Tooting Labour marginal. (Yes we Khan! And, yes he did hold his seat, although with a smaller majority.) It was great to get out there and the reality of the election brought home – but, the fact is, since then, I haven't been able to rest easy.

It felt like we were on the brink somehow – but not just a brink – a cliff – a very steep drop into the unknown. Things were going to change. It wasn't clear how, but it was definitely going to be the end of an era. I found myself making plans to meet friends and wondering whether – when next week came – the buses would still be running. That fear man has had since the beginning of time that the world is about to end – well, it was upon me.

By Thursday I was crying over the news headlines. Events in Greece seemed horribly alarming. Was the EU going to be brought down? The world as I knew it seemed to be crumbling. By the time election night arrived, I was far too tired and overwrought to go out to any parties. I slumped on the sofa wrapped in a blanket, watching Outnumbered, and waiting for the exit polls.

By 12.30am – none the wiser – I downed some Night Nurse in an effort to turn off my brain. Failed. Up again at 3am to see how things were going. Stared blearily at the swingometer before staggering back to bed for another couple of hours before being woken at six by a loud cry of cock-a-doodle-do (my four-year-old).

A few hours later I went to buy bread and, suddenly, the anxiety bubble burst. I was even tempted to giggle. My local café was still there. The buses juddered past. All was business as usual. I nodded hello to a few familiar local faces. They all looked normal, breezy, sunny even. These cunning people have just ignored the election, I thought to myself. They've voted, they've caught a few moments of news – but they've cleverly realised that life goes on regardless. They haven't been seduced by the media maelstrom. They're not staggering about in a state of sleep-deprived zombiedom like me and the party leaders.

A meta-study out this week says that sleep deprivation is a serious business – it can even lead to premature death. And tellingly, experts also say that feelings of great optimism and delusions of grandeur are other classic symptoms. My feelings weren't optimistic but I've clearly been a drama queen. Might I suggest, then, that everyone responsible for sorting out this muddled election should get lots of sleep before they rush into any big decisions.

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