I refuse to lose sleep over this

By the time you read this, I will be dead. Well, no, not dead, I'm exaggerating. Asleep. Yes, that's more like it. By the time you read this - no matter what time of day or night it is - I hope very much to be well and truly unconscious. I'm tired out. If I had three wishes at the moment (although apparently the coalition government is asking genies to cut it to 2.2), I would simply wish to be in the soundest sleep of my life and pass on the remaining wishes to someone more alert.

People warned me this would come. It's the advice most commonly doled out to those expecting their first baby: "Get ready never to sleep again." Six months into my career as a father, my state of dead-eyed torpor, only a few degrees up the ladder from full-scale putrefaction, is exactly what would have been expected, and what any number of hardened parents paused from brushing mashed-up vegetables off their clothes to predict. But what hurts is that I thought I was different. I believed I was above sleep.

Carpe noctem

My trademark as a comedian has been endurance. I'm best known in Edinburgh for having performed a series of 24-hour shows, stretching on occasion to 33 and even as long as 36 hours. If I couldn't always be funny, I told myself, I could at least provide value for money. And so, for some years, I've basked in titles like "comedy's hardest-working figure" and been feted for my sleep-defying feats. People still email me to ask for advice on how to stay up all night - if they have an essay to finish, for example, or are on the run from the police. There are many people who make their living researching good sleep habits, offering counselling, writing books on the subject. I was the opposite. I was regarded by my peers as a guru of sleeplessness.

And this position of authority was at least partly justified. As early as my schooldays, I resented the idea that I would spend as much as a third of my life insensible. It seemed such a waste. How was I going to find time to read all the books I wanted to, have the adventures I assumed I would have throughout my twenties, and keep up with baseball and other sports taking place in different time zones?

Throughout sixth form and university, therefore, I trained myself to survive on far less sleep than the experts prescribe. Where other students were tucked up asleep the night before an exam, I would be doing my most useful revision, knowing that my brain would still be in good working order in the exam room. The habit continued into my twenties. I wrote almost all of each of my books, and most of everything else I've produced in my working life, while the rest of the country was sleeping. It's a perfect time to work - nobody phones with a customer satisfaction questionnaire, no delivery men ring all 24 doorbells in your block until they find the right address - and all the time, you're getting ahead of the lazy, sleeping competition.

But now that I'm the supposed head of a family, all this has vanished. Being a parent has made a nonsense of my sleep-avoidance techniques. Never before have my wife and I craved sleep so often and with such hunger. Our idea of a bedroom fantasy nowadays is literally just to be in the bedroom. Emily wrote on Twitter last week: "Sleep is calling me like the warm hug of death. Unfortunately I have to mash up some swede."

Snooze at Ten

I can only apologise to all the people out there with children, whose tiredness I hitherto completely underestimated. Goodness knows how anything ever gets done in the world, given how many people have families. If the rest of society were coping as badly with exhaustion as I suddenly am, planes would drop out of the sky at the rate of several a day; News at Ten would tail off halfway through with the newsreader staring glassily into the middle distance and mumbling: "Sorry. What were we talking about?"

So, I have learned humility. From now on I will be sleeping at every possible opportunity. I've pretty much done a complete U-turn on the subject. In restaurants, I now order the "slow-roast lamb", or any other dish that sounds as if it'll allow me a few extra minutes to rest my eyes. And I am training myself to sleep during ad breaks and wake up again when the programme restarts.

Like Icarus, I have been punished heavily by the Fates for challenging the natural order of things. But at least Icarus didn't have to get up at six the next morning. That's it from me. Could you turn the light off as you leave this page, please?

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 06 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The Pope on Trial