London, Nov. 7: When Margaret Thatcher said she survived on no more than four hours' sleep a night during her 11 years as Prime Minister, she was hailed for having what appeared to be superhuman strength.
But today, such a statement from a public figure would barely raise an eyebrow. A report published earlier this week by Demos ' described as Tony Blair's favourite think-tank ' found that 39 per cent of adults believed that they suffered from a lack of sleep. That figure rose to 50 per cent among managers and those with children.
Such is the magnitude of the problem that the report suggested that sleepy staff should be taking afternoon naps. And their employers were urged to provide them with rooms to do so.
But is this the best way to combat a seeming epidemic of sleeplessness' The Daily Telegraph asked some people in the public eye.
Like most in this informal poll, Dr Liam Fox, the Conservative co-chairman, averages only five hours' sleep a night. He agreed that people needed to put more importance on adequate rest: 'We eat when we are hungry and drink when we are thirsty, so why are people not sleeping when they are tired'
For many, the answer is that there are simply not enough hours in the day. Mark Bolland, the Prince of Wales' former deputy private secretary, sleeps between five and six hours a night and rarely gets to bed before midnight.
'It's impossible,' he said. 'I work late, then I go to the gym, then it's dinner. After that, it's time for some more work. Finally, because of my other half (Guy Black, the Conservative Party's head of communications), we read the first editions of the newspapers as soon as they arrive, which adds on another 45 minutes.'
Sleep, it seems, has become a luxury. The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, who has two young children and sleeps an average of five hours a night, said: 'It's very boring being tired all the time, and even more so telling people that I am tired all the time, but I suppose that's just modern life. It's relentless.'
Marco Pierre White, the chef-turned-restaurateur, said he would always rather spend the early hours of the morning hunting than sleeping. 'I only need three hours a night. I've applied an element of logic to this: because my job is no longer physical, I need to rest my brain ' not my body. If I go to bed at 10 pm, I will be awake at 1 am. Then I will write or read.'
For many, bed is often the only time they truly have to themselves, and they use it to mull over worries. 'By the time I get my kids to bed, read stories, check for monsters, pack school bags for the next day and try to finish a whole conversation with my husband, it's midnight,' said Kathy Lette, the novelist. 'Once I get horizontal, I then worry for at least another half hour about the deadlines I've missed.'
Many professional women with children find scant time for sleep. Sarah Tremellen is the chief executive of Bravissimo, a lingerie company, and has two children. 'I've always wanted to be a hands-on mum, but that has often meant working when they are asleep ' from 8 pm to 2 am.'