The curse of sleep

Gary Day learns narcoleptics can't sleep at night, quiz genii are insufferable and ministers clearly evasive

October 16, 2008

One of the strange things to emerge from "Ninety Naps A Day", a Cutting Edge documentary for Channel 4 (Thursday 9pm), is that narcolepsy sufferers have difficulty sleeping at night.

Or if they do nod off they have vivid dreams. An American was yanked back from oblivion by a giant slice of garlic bread.

Narcoleptics fall unconscious instantly. "One of the problems is that you knock your head a lot," said Samantha, one of a trio of Britons featured in the show.

Another, Ken, fell asleep on his first date with Christine, his wife of 40 years. "He didn't fall asleep on his honeymoon," she confided. We cut to 14-year-old Tony, who is gently shaken out of his slumber by his classroom assistant. She wheels him off to biology but, despite it being his favourite subject, his eyes snap shut.

Britain doesn't offer much support to serial sleepers so Sam, Tony and Ken were flown across to America to see what was available there. In an inspired piece of integrated programming the commercial break included an advert for a British Airways Club Class bed.

On arrival the three were met by the Statue of Liberty, aka Audrey, the organiser of the Narcolepsy Network Conference. Her whirling arms suggested she was generating wind power for New York.

She informed her guests that they were people first and narcoleptics second. Narcoleptics with jet-lag, they might have retorted, but for the fact that a slumber had their spirit sealed.

There is no cure for narcolepsy, so the conference looked at ways to cope with the condition. "Be creative," urged Audrey, whose rapid arm movements now intimated that she was chopping down a succession of invisible assailants. Behind her, two figures draped in net curtains pretended to be butterflies.

There was a laughter workshop run by a man in an orange jumpsuit. This was not to Ken's taste. Neither was the one on intimacy. He didn't see why he should share with the circle what he and Christine did in the bedroom. He went off for a nap instead.

Samantha didn't like the demand for emotional display. The group wanted her to cry. They wanted to hug her. They advanced with open arms, some of them falling asleep before they reached her. Sam took refuge in her room. But, like Ken, she ultimately found the experience useful.

It was a relief, too, for Christine, who learnt that she was not alone in feeling resentment towards a partner who falls into a doze as you tell them about your day. Tony finally decided to try a new drug that had helped sufferers Stateside.

The most smug people on television are the Eggheads (BBC Two, 6pm). They are described by the host Jeremy Vine as "possibly the best quiz team in Britain". "He only said 'possibly'!" you want to scream at the screen. Even so, they are a formidable bunch. As they never cease to remind us.

"Hello, I am Chris Hughes, winner of Mastermind, International Mastermind and Brain of Britain." And they can never, and I mean never, answer a question without showing how much else they know about the subject in question. "Shut up! Just shut up, will you!" The joy of the show is in seeing them defeated.

That rarely happens. Not just because they know trivia like what makes Liskeard train station unusual but because the challengers, with names like Bard-Brain, insist on not knowing anything about the subjects on which they have to answer questions. What about a little preparation, folks?

Perhaps they could apply the multiple-choice format of Eggheads to Question Time (BBC One, 10.30pm). That would mean that politicians not only have to answer the question but there would also be a one in three chance they might get it right. "Will taxes be raised in the next budget to pay for the subsidy to the banks?"

Resplendent in red tie, David Dimbleby turned to John Denham, the Minister for Universities. "Let's be clear," Denham began. After five minutes Dimbleby intervened. Would the minister answer the question please, "yes" or "no"? But John hadn't finished being clear. David's tie looked as if it might explode.

If only Archie in EastEnders (BBC One) showed as much emotion. He remains impassive in storylines that would make an Ancient Greek mask twitch in amazement. Attach a bulldog clip to his testicles. That should bring some life to his eyes. And if that fails, he could always try watching Eggheads.

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