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HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: I'm tired of 2020 - but solutions are as evasive as sleep

OPINION

We are all very, very tired. This has been a long, challenging, life-changing and stressful year. And I’m sorry to be a bad-news bear, but there seems to be some impression that when 2020 is over and the clock strikes 12 on 31 December, things will suddenly change and the world will start over.

But it won’t. We are going to be here, suffering and stressing long into 2021 and who knows how long after that. The only solution can offer is to get rest somehow. This manifests in sleep - which we all do at night for a variety of hours. Some of us get enough of it, some of us don’t. But I am convinced it is the only solution to stop the clock and start again.

I don’t have to tell you about the power of sleep – it’s advice any mental health expert or scientist will give you: "make sure you get enough sleep". Eight hours is usually the recommendation, but let’s be real - a lot of us, especially those who work in the gig industry, simply can’t fit this into their fast-dwindling time. Then the advice moves to “if you can’t get eight hours, at least make sure the sleep you do get is worth it and revitalising".

Like I said, I don’t have to tell you why sleep is important. But let’s go through a quick checklist:

  • Sleep has links to several brain functions, including concentration, productivity and cognition.

  • Proper sleep increases a desire to have a healthier lifestyle. Think about it; if we got enough sleep we would have more energy to go to gym without binging on sugar for highs of energy.

  • Sleep also affects the way people react to and engage with other people. I feel that during these times, sleep is most important for me. I have a lower tolerance for understanding people and I’m pretty sure my emotional intelligence goes down significantly. This is when my general reaction to people is: the world is burning, I don’t care how much your job is stressing you out. This is inadequate behavior and does nothing to create supportive and healthy relationships, which is something we all need, especially now.

  • Lack of sleep leads has a direct relationship with your general anxiety levels, and people who live with depression are more likely to be chased by the “black dog” without enough of it. We’re depressed and anxious enough, why not sleep our way through it, right?

Here’s the problem: the environment we find ourselves in is completely incongruent to the sleep theories and advice.

Several studies have shown that people who have never suffered from insomnia for example before, have developed this problem over this past year. People spend their time just trying to get through the day, which may manifest in unhealthy habits. They reserve their pillow time for problem solving, overthinking and digging deep into their reservoirs of stress and anxiety about the general state of the world, safety and just… coping. Studies also show that those who actually get sleep have an uneasy rest because of bad dreams, so they’re constantly waking up and hardly getting a full night's rest. They also show people are spending a lot more time on screens than usual, which was already a lot of time to begin with.

Everything takes place over a screen. Meetings, work, socialising, keeping in touch with friends and family, and endlessly scrolling through Twitter searching for more information about how the world is falling apart.

We’re also using screens as escape mechanisms. We’re watching more Netflix shows and other stuff even if it’s complete crap because production on new releases has all but stopped. All of this messes with our melatonin levels, which regulate sleep cycles.

My wife and I, at our lowest point, were convinced that the Netflix show The Floor is Lava was the best thing we had ever seen. We were so desperate for distraction that, in retrospect, we recommended what is arguably amongst the world's worst programmes to everyone who would listen. And these are just a few of the negative effects not getting enough rest has had when now is when we need sleep more than ever.

I’m a horrible sleeper in general. I really struggle. It’s so bad and I’m so stupid at it - I don’t know what to do with my hands. I have actually in the past researched what people do with their hands when they sleep to get comfortable because it literally keeps me awake and uncomfortable. And my smartwatch is very good at reminding me that the average amount of deep-sleep I get during a night – the kind that is actually restorative – is only an average of 20 minutes. Twenty minutes?! The average amount of deep-sleep an adult needs is 90 minutes. It doesn’t seem like a lot but in these 90 minutes, our bodies reset for the next day, we consolidate our mental health, we emotionally process things, we physically recover, our metabolism has a chance to regulate, our immune systems recharge and our brains detox.

I have no idea how we’re supposed to be doing all of this when the world is set up for us to do the exact opposite. Advice forums offer the same old crap: meditate, save your bedroom for only sleeping, turn off your phone, light a candle, make a sanctuary, use a weighted blanket. It’s enraging. The only thing I can think of when I hear someone tell me to try a weighted blanket is, can it keep me down forever until this is all over? Or do I have to wake up tomorrow and go through all of this again while trying to escape with totally B-grade shows on streaming sites?

Forget 2021. How do we reset ourselves for tomorrow?

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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