“In November, the trees are standing all sticks and bones. Without their leaves, how lovely they are, spreading their arms like dancers. They know it is time to be still.”— Cynthia Rylant, In November
Here November is, a precursor to the long hard slog of a Canadian winter, and what a chilled November it is. It’s a month of in-betweens and a month of rushing: to get out of the cold, to enjoy what daylight there is, to get our shopping done or take advantage of the sales, to hurry toward our still-far-off holidays and the new year, anything to distract us from right here, right now.
It is, in short, a month that threatens misery and exhaustion…unless you decide to make like the clever creatures of the wild and get cozy. Unfortunately, we live in a society where human hibernation is not really viable (although maybe it could be one day), but that doesn’t mean we can’t get into the spirit of settling in somewhere warm and indulging in comfort.
One fun side effect of quarantine is a sleep schedule that slowly, seemingly on its own, creeps off axis, until suddenly it’s 3 am and you decide now is a good time to listen to all your favourite songs from high school. What makes it weirder is that, for a lot of us, we are still getting up in the morning and clocking in for a workday. I, for one, am not sleeping until noon to make up for my late nights. So why is this insomnia happening, and what can we do about it?
I’m someone who deals with a precarious sleep schedule on a good day; some nights, for no reason at all, I’ll be wide awake until 5 am, only finally passing out once the sun comes up. Is it caused by anxiety? A lack of exercise? Too much caffeine? Any answer is plausible, and it’s never obvious. But being locked inside for the past few months, I’ve been much more confident attributing these sleepless flare-ups to the low-grade anxiety that thrums through us at every point in the day. Just because we might not actively feel the anxiety (although, sometimes, we do) doesn’t mean it’s not always there. You might notice it manifesting in weird, unsettling dreams, which appears to be a common trend right now (mine have tended to be about being locked out of my apartment, my car being towed, being late for work because the Starbucks barista had to cook a whole chicken for me…). There is also the strange sense that time is both speeding by and not moving at all—another scientifically documented byproduct of quarantine. Without distinct markers for the passage of days, our brains have trouble differentiating them. Since all our days look the same, it just feels like one looooong day. Next thing you know, a whole month has gone by.
Because of this, the best thing to do for yourself is create a routine. This is something I struggle with a lot; normally I’m too busy to worry about a routine (besides, like, going to work) and I’m tired enough by the end of the day that I can usually hit the pillow with ease. Without anything forcing structure on me, I’m like a bag in the wind. Routine lets your mind and body know what it should be doing when, including when it should be winding down for sleep. I’m sure you’ve heard the usual “no blue light before bed” rule, but it’s true! Give yourself at least half an hour without screens before bed. The blue light from screens confuses your brain into thinking it’s daytime. So as much as I would love to continue my binge watch of The Magicians at 2 am, I know that’s not the right move. It’s honestly all about fooling your brain.