Health

The Chaotic Pleasure of Cultivating a Bad Habit

A less than perfect night's rest, for me, feels like total bliss.
December 7, 2020, 12:00pm
The Chaotic Pleasures of Cultivating a Bad Habit
Illustration by Cathryn Virginia
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An end-of-the-year series about ditching what isn't working anymore, especially generalized approaches to "self-improvement."

Usually, the gap between "what I 'should be' doing" and "what I’m actually doing" is a classic hangout spot for my distress—unless what I’m doing is exactly what I want to be doing. In that case, I get struck with a perverse glee. And given how much I stay home now, many of the best sins are tempered, so I take my kicks where I can. Now, my kick is falling asleep badly, with the help of every poor sleep hygiene practice that I can muster, all at once. I relish this: Sometimes you have to quit a bad habit, and sometimes you have to quit caring and just enjoy yourself. 

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There are endless bad routines associated with poor sleep hygiene and I think I like them all. Bedtime is a precious hothouse flower who can’t let anything remotely interesting approach it too closely. None of the following are permitted to take place within mere hours of sleep: heated conversations, random dancing, screen time, reading anything exciting that gets your blood boiling, watching amazing videos of your friend’s dogs, drinking too much, big snacks, any stimulants. Bad sleep hygiene even includes contradictory practices. It’s detrimental, apparently, both to (1) get into bed very late and (2) get into bed very, deliciously early. It leads a person to ask: If I cut out or change all these things, what do I do? Play dead? Be quiet? Am I supposed to pretend I’m comatose, just before I go comatose for six to nine hours?

Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the life force? 

Nowhere, that’s where. The requirements for great sleep hygiene actually seem most likely to sabotage my soul. Wholesome sleep hygiene courts stillness: imitation of paralysis, a sterile mindset, a quiet room, a dark scene. I’m a bit afraid of stillness at the moment. Too much calm invites the mind to “have at it.” If you instead decide to play the song you’ve had in your head all day (“He’s the Greatest Dancer”), invent impeccable choreography, and rile up the dog while waiting for your partner to finish getting ready for bed: Well, there’s certainly no room for anything as scary as “thoughts.” 

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I know it's supposed to be bad for my brain and the rest of my body, but I’ve recently become a genius at bad bedtimes, because they make me happy. I’ll squish my body into a fantastic seahorse shape on the couch, legs resting on the snoring dog, half-reading a magazine from September, half-watching a Veep, a whiskey-on-ice sweating on the table. Texting amazing jokes to pals in different time zones. Starting some correspondence project where I have to make my own card and glue is everywhere. Online shopping for tiny hoop earrings made of delicate chains (if you have a lead on the perfect pair, please email) while my partner reads a nonfiction thriller aloud to me, this time with a glass of lively, confusing natural wine fizzing away on the nightstand. Teeth are unbrushed in all scenarios.

On Sunday, I fell asleep watching The Crown by myself because my boo won’t watch it with me (despite loving Olivia Coleman!), then I did get up to brush my teeth—and then, because I was awake, I started watching The Crown again. (“You fell asleep twice to that show,” my boo said. “It sounds pretty boring.” They’re right! But the faces; the clothes; the silent screams, the quiet repression: It speaks to me.) 

You might be regarding my bedside table— with a laptop, a tiny clay vessel of mescal, three magazines, seven thousand novels, cup of water, cup of tea, phone open to a video chat app—and say, My: what a complicated set-up you have, with many moving parts! I admire this about me as well, but let me just tell that, like a child prodigy with a viola, this all just comes to me very naturally. Wildly creative poor sleep hygiene probably isn’t even my worst bad habit, and that’s maybe why it feels so great to cultivate it. Doing something just a little detrimental to yourself in the name of joy and fulfillment is the stuff of life. 

 You might reasonably ask me how I do sleep at night, to which I say: just fine. Overall, I’m pretty lucky in the sleeping department, which is why I feel some leeway to sabotage myself here. My rests are usually uninterrupted, fairly rejuvenating, and only plagued by one or two dreams in which something has gone wrong at an airport, which feels manageable enough. As with every single element in my life, I’m sure it could be improved. I’m sure I could be a little perkier during the day, but… to what end? I recognize that, at the moment, the world isn’t in a fit state to receive me at my best, brightest, and bushiest-tailed. 

There’s also something about bad habits fostered right now, in the midst of what is hopefully a temporary state of bad affairs, that make them feel temporary, too. I’m not worried that I’ll have bad sleep habits for the rest of my life, or really even beyond this winter. For now, this is my hobby, my delight, my skill. If the goal of "getting good sleep" is personal peace, then my approach to the larger mission should be personal, as well. Just for now, the only thing that really puts me to rest is drifting off in a fun, chaotic barrage of my own choosing. 

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