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Why am I always so tired? It doesn’t matter how much I sleep I always wish I could have slept more. I eat relatively well, don’t drink too often, and I don’t have kids – yet. Is this just part of the unending nightmare of being an adult? Is it psychological? How do I deal with the feeling that there’s never enough time for rest?
I feel ya. Just as I typed your name I let out a big, satisfying yawn. I am almost never not tired. Nearly everyone I know is the same way. Even when I feel energetic, I also, somehow, feel tired. We all are - most of the developed world is sleeping less than it used to.
We live in what's being called an 'attention economy'. Many of the products that we know and love are in a highly engaged war over our attentions. Instagram wants you to scroll through photos for as long as possible, Spotify wants you to listen to Sunday Afternoon Chill as long as possible, Netflix wants you to watch Bojack Horseman in as few sittings as possible.
So, while in previous generations, our consumption was competed for in terms of price (who could charge you the most for the thing that cost the least, or have you buy more of related goods made by the same company), now, more than ever, much of our consumption is based around services that are relatively cheap (or free!) but make money by on-selling your attention to other companies (much like this very website).
Because of this, the providers of these goods and services have become better than anyone in the history of the world at keeping you engaged for as much of your waking life as possible. In 2017, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said that Netflix’s biggest competitor is sleep. “You get a show or a movie you’re really dying to watch, and you end up staying up late at night, so we actually compete with sleep,” he said. “And we’re winning!”
All of which is to say, I feel that many of us are living in this technology-induced state where we attempt to maximize every waking hour to cram as much content as possible, which is, I believe, the enemy of sleep. When we're filling every minute gap in our day with information, entertainment, and social engagement; when we can't go to the bathroom without also scrolling through Instagram; when we can't wait for a coffee without checking the news; when we can't bear a bus-ride when we've forgotten our headphones; when we struggle to close our laptops on that show that's actually not that good but we're watching it anyway because all these people on the internet were telling us how good it is; how the hell are we supposed to, at some arbitrary time in the night, just switch it all off and tell ourselves it's time to go to sleep?
My advice - which I am rarely good at following myself - is that if you can build more unmediated time into your days (and especially your nights), you might have an easier time getting to sleep earlier and over time start to feel more rested.
Give yourself a chance to be bored, to do nothing, so sit on the couch with a book in your hands that you're not really reading. Let your mind wander, even if it leads you to work or a socially anxious situation (better to think about it now, on the couch than when you're lying in bed in the dark), and when your thoughts get more abstract and dreamlike, you know sleep is on the way.