You're Really, Really Tired All The Time. It's Not Your Fault.

Sleep hygiene tells lies of omission.

Tired woman sitting.
Shot Prime

All I wanted to do was sleep.

I was working 80 hours a week, supervising teachers for an academic summer program. On Saturdays, I crashed. I only left my room to do laundry and grab a giant burrito down the street. Otherwise, I stayed in bed and stared at the ceiling. On Sunday afternoons, I went back to work.

I wondered if I was depressed.

I felt lazy.

You might spend a lot of time beating yourself up or letting someone else shame you for when you sleep and how you do it. You might go around apologizing for how tired you feel all the time, especially now that we're watching the world unravel. You might spend hours hunting for solutions in listicles that do nothing but shame you. You need to know something.

It's not your fault.

The world participates in a $400 billion sleep industry. More than 70 percent of Americans bought a sleep aid during the last year. The internet bristles with books, articles, and podcasts on sleep hygiene.

Most of it doesn't help.

It assigns blame.

None of the advice really faces the truth. Every single aspect of our culture and our economy is rigged against our sleep. Most of us don't get to decide when we sleep. Our boss does. Our kids do.

It's a losing battle.

Popular sleep advice tells lies of commission by pretending we can control our sleep, and that it's compatible with our current systems. We can't, and it's not. For starters, this advice ignores one of the most basic laws of sleep, the sleep chronotype. Researchers have found more than 100 areas in the human genome associated with sleep. They determine everything from when we feel like going to bed to how much sleep we need. There's a huge range of sleep needs, but the world accommodates the habits of an elite few.

That's just scratching the surface.

For thousands of years, humans slept in shifts. We went to bed around sunset and then we woke up a few hours later. We did chores. We bathed. We read. We had deep thoughts. We had sex. Then we went back to sleep. Some of us even slept until noon. Nobody cared. Nobody called us lazy. Humans forgot about that until an historian named Roger Ekirch started stumbling across the phrase "first sleep" in old court documents. He found examples in history and literature going back to the 8th century B.C. He found experiments from the 1960s showing that humans gravitate toward sleep shifts when you let them.

It all started to change during the industrial revolution.

We're also supposed to take naps.

A chemical called adenosine tells us when to sleep. By 3 pm, our bodies reach a natural adenosine high. Most cultures around the world used to give everyone a few hours in the middle of the day to sleep.

Now they don't.

According to Saundra Dalton-Smith, there's actually seven types of rest. Most of us aren't getting at least one of them. I wonder how many of us even have the time to figure out which kind of tired we feel.

There's another reason you're probably tired all the time, and it's because you're enduring relentless trauma through the lens of your phone. You witness everything from war crimes to climate disasters, every single day. Don't worry, this isn't one of those "stop doomscrolling" articles.

I have a different point.

Trauma makes you physically tired, even if you're just witnessing it. Trauma releases stress hormones. Your brain can produce significantly more of them than your body can process. When your body gets overloaded by stress hormones, it tries to tell you to sleep it off. While you're asleep, your body heals in all kinds of ways, including recovery from stress.

It's exhausting to see such privileged, entitled ignorance and indifference in the face of so much unnecessary death, destruction, and suffering. It's even more exhausting to be reminded every day that your own life and wellness is considered peripheral to someone else's brunch.

Psychologists have a term for that.

It's called crisis fatigue.

The internet has appropriated this term and turned it into another life hack. It's always the same lame advice:

Put away your phone.
Exercise more.

Except the problems don't go away when you turn off your phone. Your body knows what's going on, even if your brain doesn't.

You know what would really help?

It would really help if we stopped funding war. It would really help if we stopped spending hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons and started spending hundreds of billions on things like homes, shelters, hospitals, schools, and libraries. It would really help if we didn't have to work 80 hours a week just to afford food and a place to live. It would really help if we didn't get blamed for how tired we are, when everything we're forced to do is the complete opposite of what our minds and bodies were designed for.

We can't solve all of these problems fast enough to save everyone. There's a chance we won't be able to solve them at all. But sleep itself is part of the answer. As Tricia Hersey says, resting itself is a solution. Sleep heals us. Sleep disrupts the status quo. Sleep slows the planet's destruction.

There's a lot of horrible things happening.

It's okay for all of that to make you tired.

It's not your fault.

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