How do you sleep at night? Probably not very well, if the data is to be believed. The pandemic has brought a plague of insomnia and hypersomnia, night terrors and sleep medication misuse. We're missing daylight; we've fallen out of step. Good sleep hygiene has never been more important. I have a routine, and they say routine is key.
Often, I'll start by thinking about taking a night walk, because when it gets to bedtime I'll realise I've achieved nothing and a bracing lethargy ensues. A walk might tire me out, but it's cold outside, there's Covid-19 there. I run a bath. I plunge my cracked hands into the bag of Epsom salts and sprinkle them in like a ritual. My mangled, bloodied cuticles burn. You deserve that, I whisper, and regret (every night) that I haven't changed the bath mat but it's too late now. Science says the rise, then fall, in body temperature associated with bathing and getting out promotes drowsiness. The plumbing is old and capricious and thermally extreme.
I look at the heat rash blooming across my chest and down my arms. This is lovely. I've never earned a bath bomb (I'll save it). I shampoo, rinse, condition and then lose the will to live. I could sleep right now. Time passes. The conditioner ooze drips a bit down my forehead, globbing together with beads of sweat, but I don't notice because I'm thinking about...
Rinse, the shower head is freezing suddenly and now I feel nauseous. I am so clean. So clean and fresh. I am a joint of ham gleaming pinkly. I am a prehistoric prawn in the primordial soup. I'm a new baby, baptised.
I wash my face. I brush my teeth. Creating a peaceful sleeping environment is key; I turn off the big light and clear some space on the floor beside the bed. I plug in my phone and arrange my pillow fortress so that there's no chance of accidentally touching my bed's other occupant. I say goodnight and unplug my phone and turn on the blue-light filter (this is important, because of circadian rhythms) and start reading the news, or not the news necessarily, but the Covid-19 case numbers of the day - the graphs and projections, ICU statuses. I scroll down to read the comments, the anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, normal people, scared people. That person is writing from Dallas; I look up the case numbers in Dallas, then Daytona Beach, Denmark, Dalkey, and the unique horrors of each. I bite around my nails.
This isn't doom scrolling, they shouldn't call this doom scrolling, because surely the doom is worse not knowing the facts as soon as possible, or missing out on something, an alert, an advance?
Yes, it's much more relaxing to stay in the loop. It releases cortisol, which is the same hormone the body releases during exercise, and everyone knows exercise is good. This is good. Not scrolling, but research - relaxing, rejuvenating research. But still, I feel strangely more awake than I did a couple of hours ago. A book? Of course not. A podcast? A cultural history of corridors? Surely I won't stay awake through a history of corridors?
I'll keep looking. Except that was an hour ago and I've been on Instagram, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, but I couldn't tell you one thing I've seen. I close it in boredom and immediately, instinctively, open it again. I think about the article that described sleep as an "important prophylactic" to keep us healthy in a pandemic. 'Prophylactic'. I calculate exactly how many hours I'd get if I got up at eight o'clock, nine, 10, 11, a fractious noon. And at 3am, like clockwork, I sleep. l