Why I'm sleepless in the Apple

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The Independent Online

It has taken a new study by the National Sleep Foundation in the US to uncover this small but priceless nugget of intelligence about ourselves: if we are happy in our lives and our stress levels are low, we sleep better at night. And if we don't sleep well at night, we are less happy during the day and more stressed. The foundation bravely concludes that a good night's sleep is important.

You don't say. Still, here is something I didn't know. According to another new study, the people who sleep the longest - between the recommended seven and nine hours - are less likely to get fat. In fact, those of us who get fewer than four hours shut-eye are 73 per cent more likely to be obese than eight-hours-a-night people.

So that explains my extra pounds of late. It has nothing to do with my continuing failure to patronise my gym, or my British sweet tooth. Because the truth is that I live in the City That Never Sleeps. It is not that I never sleep, of course, but it does seem to be getting harder. Why this insomnia?

I stumbled upon yet another study recently - survey-taking is poised to replace baseball as America's favourite pastime - that warned about the dangers of RLS, or Restless Leg Syndrome. The Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation (yes, it exists) tells us that 8 per cent of Americans are victims of this serious disorder. You know the signs: unwanted jerking of the legs as you are dropping off.

Am I part of this statistic? I reckon that if I have RLS, then it must be only in the mildest form. My nights are surely more disturbed by two other ailments, RPS and RDS. If there are foundations out there that can help me overcome these, I have yet to find them. I am talking about Restless Partner Syndrome, of which the vanishing duvet shock is a well-known symptom, and Restless Dog Syndrome. The dog I can banish, but my partner might be less obliging if ejected from the Master Bedroom.

The more practical solution would be to move. I say Master Bedroom with a dose of irony; it is more like a small tomb, especially now winter is here. Heating is provided by a single exposed pipe running up one corner, immediately next to where I rest my head. As the basement boilers fire up, two things happen. The entire room erupts into a modern symphony of clicks and bangs as the plumbing expands, and the pipe itself becomes so blazing hot I dream that my head is locked inside a Belling.

Nor is opening the window an option, thanks to my close neighbours across the road - the officers of the 13th Precinct of the NYPD - who spend most nights gathered on the pavement outside yacking loudly. Their conversations and the beep-beep-beep of reversing police vehicles would cure the worst narcoleptic.

But moving to another apartment might not do the trick. Better that I leave New York entirely, according to the Sleep Foundation survey. The main point of its research was to rank America's cities from worst to best in terms of the likelihood of their citizens getting a decent night's rest. New York, as its nickname implies, does not come out well in the snoozing league. It is among the five worst cities for restful nights, along with the likes of New Orleans, Cleveland and - the most sleepless metropolis of all - Detroit. The report cites factors such as high employment, high divorce rates and high poverty rates as all contributing to the inability of residents of these cities to rest properly.

But what about tranquillity, or the absence of it? We know about New York, and I have just returned from a weekend in New Orleans. The hotel had equipped each room with a noise-making machine - a range of buttons allowed me to switch between babbling brooks, crashing surf, tropical birdsong and soothing rain. Nothing, however, drowned out the ruckus of the revellers outside my window.

So, here is the plan. In my quest for nocturnal peace, I will be moving shortly with partner and dog to Minneapolis. This is a town that takes getting enough sleep so seriously that it recently delayed by one hour the time that kids must turn up at school - it is now 8.15 instead of 7.15am - and moved the closing time for bars back from 2am to 1am. And it worked; Minneapolis takes the prize as No 1 in the Sleep Foundation survey. Residents of the City That Always Sleeps, one assumes, must be among the most relaxed and well-adjusted in the country. And the thinnest, too.

A turkey escapes, but the pig gets it

Don't ask me why, but we have chosen to have our Thanksgiving dinner this year not at somewhere American, but at Rolf's, a German restaurant that changes its entire decor with every season. It's just around the corner from the apartment.

Truthfully, I could skip the turkey thing altogether. It's not that I am a sucker for the animal-welfare folk who have unleashed their annual barrage of sickening details about how ill-treated the birds are at this time of year - about 40 million are slaughtered just to be consumed on Thursday - but more that, I am just bored with it.

I suppose I could order turkey schnitzel at Rolf's and trade the usual cranberry jelly and yams for a good helping of sauerkraut. But I don't think I will even go that far. Last week, President Bush pardoned two turkeys on the White House lawn, saving them from the knife. Well, I can be a compassionate conservative too. I hereby declare that I will spare a third. Pork loin for me.

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