“Another glass of red on a school night. Are you sure?” my friend asks, with a whiff of censure in her voice. “Absolutely,” I enthuse. “I still need to check out that comedy club after the film screening. And what’s the address for that other party again?”
Later that night, after a cocktail or five, an Uber cab and a giant bag of Bombay mix – A-list carbs to soak up the units – I hit the pillow, dislodging a couple of hissing cats, to sleep the sleep of the blameless.
Seven hours later, I wake up feeling slightly delicate, but elated. I managed to find out why Actress A isn’t speaking to Actress B. Scoop! I totter to my desk and (fortified by croissants and a lot of caffeine), soon I’m a human woman again.
And you know, I’m vindicated. According to a new Cambridge University survey of more than 21,000 UK employees, you can “drink, eat and smoke what you like” as long as you get those vital seven hours of sleep. So it seems those of us with freewheeling, rackety lifestyles are actually more productive than self-righteous types who go to bed at 10pm with a mint tea and proceed to toss and turn all night.
Not only is sleeplessness to blame for low productivity, going without sleep for just one night causes changes in the brain similar to those that occur after a blow to the head. A lack of it also brings an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and Parkinson’s.
Part of the problem is that the brain requires sleep to cleanse itself of toxic substances. Go without enough Zzzs and you’ll be scratchy and passive-aggressive in the office.
Who cares if you treat your body like a temple – lean and clean diet, 7am gym start – if you sleep so little you can’t even think straight? In my experience it’s the insomniacs who are the real liabilities. Alcohol consumption, junk food and smoking, on the other hand, don’t seem to make any difference at all. Which is frankly a relief. Like many perilously self-employed types, work doesn’t stop at 6pm for me. I actually need to go out socialising to be better at my job – meeting contacts, finding out stories, bonding and sobbing with those tricky colleagues and frenemies.
Often it’s just social drinking. I need to cram in as many events as possible, and it helps to lubricate the wheels. Plus, when pay day isn’t for weeks it’s a good moment to turn into Queen Lig (note to self: station yourself by the door for the canapés).
But I’d argue that an occasional bender can cement relationships fast. It is, by definition, a holiday from real life. The promise over the photocopier of a quick drink with a colleague turns into a big night out, or a Friday night out with mates turns into a long, alcohol-fuelled weekend.
Confidences are exchanged. You make new friends, speak in foreign tongues, taste the immortality of the gods. Nothing beats talking into the small hours about the big topics – money, libido, mothers (though do go easy on the drunk dialling).
To misquote the great Edwardian actress Mrs Patrick Campbell, I’ve always preferred the hurly burly of the chaise longue to the deep peace of the double bed. So long as you have trained yourself to sleep after hedonism (and yes, it is possible) the computer is wiped clean – and resets itself just fine.
Spontaneous pleasure is good for us. We don’t get enough of it. I only regret I’m the boring type who doesn’t smoke or do drugs. It’s definitely held back my career – I’m never in the rooms where the real deals are being made. I shudder to think of the rungs of the ladder I’ve missed.
I’m not advocating going out on benders every night of the week, you understand. The cats would leave me. Plus, let’s be honest, benders only suit the very young and lovely (the mean age of employees in the Cambridge study sample was 36).
But in a modern workplace that prizes emotional intelligence over gladiatorial bitchiness, sometimes it’s a good thing to turn up slightly crumpled but full of joie de vivre. Fellow reprobates give you a knowing smile as you hit the canteen just that bit too early for lunch. Shattered insomniacs glance at their watches. Frankly, I know who I’d trust to operate light machinery.
Liz Hoggard is co-author of Dangerous Women: The Guide to Modern Life (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £8.99)
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