I am a woman who is profoundly exhausted. Not in the sense of being exhausted from cat-calling, or from men telling me to smile—though these all make me tired—but in the literal sense. I have yawned chronically and expansively throughout all the major milestones of my life: first dates, graduations—even funerals have been subject to my boorish brand of constant fatigue. At the tragic denouement of Atonement, I yawned so hard my jaw actually ached. Reader: please do not think me insensitive, my bed is my theatre of pathos: sex, sickness, and sleep—glorious useless sleep.
For the longest time, I’d pondered the cause of this exhaustion. Was it genetic? Or was it from a lack of routine? The answer arrived, one bleary morning over brunch with a friend, a self-styled ‘Bondi lifestyle expert’: “Well of course, darling!” she exclaimed. “It’s because you’re not sleeping to your circadian rhythm.” “My circadian what?” I squawked (eloquently).
The circadian rhythm is the biological clock inside of us, which dictates not only how much sleep we should get, but also when we should be sleeping and waking. It means listening to the susurrations of your ‘inner being’ and sleeping and waking whenever your body tells you to. The circadian rhythm requires an extraordinary exertion of self control: demanding you sleep as soon as you feel tired (instead of blearily watching Netflix into the early hours) and getting up immediately upon waking (instead of when generalised anxiety forces you).
The point, you may have been wondering, is to align yourself with your inherent sleep patterns, which are essential to alertness and cognitive function. Teenagers, for example, are naturally more alert in the late hours of the evening, purportedly because evolution encourages them to have late night sex during the prime of their fertility. The circadian rhythm is a process inherent to all organic life, from fields of wheat to Amazon river dolphins. It is a natural timescale incompatible to the dictates of late capitalism: our uni timetables, all important appointments and, grandly, our entire livelihoods.
Could listening to my circadian rhythm be the solution to my constant tiredness? I wondered (while taking a sip from an extra-shot soy latte). Could it turn me into one of those breathlessly alive technicolour women from shampoo adverts? I resolved to experiment: to sleep to the whims of my circadian rhythm for the next two weeks. Here’s what I learned.
For the first few nights, the greatest struggle is placing your phone outside your bedroom to forestall the inevitable Instagram/Facebook scroll. You will feel the absence of the glowing screen, an omniscient presence, but once untethered, you’re hit with a sudden and overwhelming diplomacy with the world. Some kind of large karmic shift, akin to sleeping under the stars or listening to Enya.
When I was suffering from chronic tiredness, I mostly worried about the birthdays, the holidays, the big events I was missing through watery half-closed eyes.
You have an extraordinary amount of dead time at ungodly hours of the morning, which may compel you to watch five episodes of Bachelor in Paradise or Keeping up with the Kardashians, have an elaborate four-course breakfast, and take all of the personality quizzes, including ‘What Burrito Are You?’ (answer: large carnitas with guac).
For most of the experiment, it is not a sense of wellbeing driving you to persevere, but an emergent moral superiority: that same toxic smugness which seeps out of Teslas and independent cinemas, infecting you with the belief that you—and you alone—have unlocked a superior way of being.
Your ‘friends’ will get sick of hearing you wax lyrical about the circadian rhythm, because it is not a “solid talking point”. They will then declare a moratorium on discussing “the most self-involved thing you’ve ever done” (which you think is not only rude, but demonstrably untrue).
Then one day, in about the second week, you’ll wake up, glance over at your alarm clock (impotent, a husk of its former self) realising you slept at 11pm the previous night and woke up at 7 am this morning. You will, at that moment, have somehow spectacularly bluffed your way into the perfect sleep pattern; feeling incredibly alert after an honest-to-god Good Nights Sleep.
So, in the unlikely event this wholly anecdotal account leaves you unconvinced, I’d just like to amend my opening statement and proclaim: I AM NOW A WOMAN WHO IS PROFOUNDLY AWAKE. Did you feel the verve, the real spice for life, the capitalisation conveys? (My editor didn’t).
It is strange because, when I was suffering from constant fatigue, I mostly worried about the birthdays, the holidays, the big events I was missing through watery half-closed eyes. But now I see the significance of the small things—those interstitial moments of beauty. Our little lives, interspersed, then rounded with sleep.