I wasn’t the one who brought it up. It’s true that I’m on a sleep quest this year, but it’s my own private thing. The topic of human hibernation came up in the context of weight loss. Someone was talking about how nice it would be to just go into a coma for six months and wake up at your goal weight. Then everyone got excited about the idea of sleeping for a year.
I mentioned Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation, and of course everyone wanted to read it, because for women the idea of sleeping for a year is the ultimate fantasy.
We were laughing pretty hard when a latecomer arrived, and we explained that we were talking about sleeping for a year. “Oh!” she said, “there’s a novel about that,” and we laughed even harder. “See? I didn’t make it up.”
We figured out the details: Go to sleep for a year. While you’re knocked out, have all your dental work done, get waxed, schedule a three-hour balayage session, design a full-body tattoo, whatever other boring or painful treatments you might want. Time it to miss all the election cycle news. (Maybe wake up just in time to vote).
Seriously, though. Assuming it were possible, what would it be like to sleep the year away?
Note that everyone in the discussion was a single woman, except for me, and, like everyone else, I don’t have kids. My stepdaughter is turning 25 and she’s been living on her own for years. I can easily understand why any parent with kids at home would be tired enough to want to sleep for a year, but it would be really hard to miss a year of their lives!
Being able to sleep for a year indicates that there are no four-alarm fires that you personally need to handle. Presumably even a surgeon or an EMT has days off when other people are on duty. Most of us aren’t literally responsible for life-or-death situations, we just cultivate our stress levels as if we are.
Does that feel true? Are our exhaustion, stress, and burnout levels really so chronically high that we might even be more tired than emergency room people?
First we have to imagine ourselves in a context in which none of our stress is helpful to society or to ourselves. We have to imagine that, yes, the world can go on without us if we roll over and fluff our pillows.
Then we have to imagine that waking up fully rested and restored would in fact deliver a better version of ourselves. That we could handle our daily routine again in good cheer, knowing we finally did not feel tired.
I know what I would do, if I did it. Assuming my husband was called away on some special mission to Mars and we couldn’t even communicate while he was gone, that I could sleep for a year and not hurt anyone’s feelings, I think I know what I would do.
I’d spend a day getting ready, cleaning out my fridge and putting all my bills on auto-pay. (Maybe I’d see if someone would stow my slumbering body on a little cot in their garage so I didn’t have to pay rent). Sleep for a year, no household chores or errands or cooking or laundry, right?
I’d get rid of all my clothes, assuming they wouldn’t fit the same when I woke up, and who would want that? Maybe keep one baggy sundress to wear to the store when I woke up to replenish my wardrobe.
I’d get rid of all my books, assuming that I’d be no more likely to read them a year from now than I have been so far. It’s not like there aren’t plenty more books out there for when I wake up.
I’d chuck any unread mail, knowing it wouldn’t be my problem a year from now. I don’t owe anyone any money. As long as someone else is taking my pets to the vet, and I’ve got my coma-appointments scheduled for dental work, et cetera, what is possibly coming in through snail mail that will concern me?
What the heck is actually on my to-do list? Does any of it truly need to get done? By me?
Hmm, what else is there?
I guess I’d have to tell people I wasn’t taking calls. Put a disclaimer in an auto-respond email message and change my voicemail. Hi, I’m sleeping until 2021, please don’t leave a message, try me again after I come out of hibernation.
What if this were a natural human biological process, like it is for bears and other animals? What if we all did it at different times? Nobody would be surprised or care that someone was busy pupating or whatever. “I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m emerging from my chrysalis.”
Imagine waking up. Imagine having simply gone to bed for a year, no loose ends and nothing to worry about. What would happen next?
This is a serious question. What would you do tomorrow if you felt fully rested, you had no incomplete tasks, and you understood that you had a clean slate and you could do whatever you wanted?
The truth is that we can basically do this for real any time we like. We are not indentured servants. We can always change jobs, move, consolidate our debts, and/or transform our bodies. We can cut off toxic, draining relationships and go on without them. We can do it all, and we don’t actually need to put ourselves in a coma to do it.
The funniest thing about the idea of sleeping for a year is that, partway into it, you’d start feeling rested enough to no longer feel an urgent need to sleep for a year. How long would that take? Eleven months? One month? Three nights?
It’s a good experiment. Set a bedtime alarm and go to bed at 9:00 pm for a few days. Try it out and see how it feels. Clear your schedule and nap all weekend. Maybe you won’t be tired any more, or maybe you’ll want to keep going for the gold medal and sleep for a year after all.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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