The privilege of a good night’s sleep

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How trying out a weighted blanket taught me the key to an actual good night’s sleep. Photo courtesy of BLANKET HUGS

Rizal (CNN Philippines Life) — I never had trouble with sleep. While in college I subsisted on the “puyat now, die later” lifestyle, my adulthood gradually evolved into the sleeping habits seen only in individuals above the age of 65. Come 10-ish, I would be groggy, sometimes cranky, ready to get some shut-eye. And if I happened to be outside, I would simply take a nap where convenient, just to stay alive for the rest of the evening.

Remembering this life feels so strange, because none of this exists anymore. No more camp-outs at mall parking lots to kill time, or falling asleep on a friend’s bed while everyone’s getting drunk at a house party. The days and nights have become fluid now, existing only as a respite from the drudgery of sameness. There was nothing to be tired from, nothing to make my bed feel like some sort of emotional oasis anymore.

It certainly didn’t help that while I longed for life in the outside world, hours of doom scrolling on Twitter or reading the questionable “political essays” from relatives on Facebook made me feel uneasy. What the hell was I missing the world for, if that’s the world I’ll be coming back to anyway? Am I doing enough to change things? Is there still hope for humanity? These are the types of fun, lighthearted thoughts that would plague my mind in bed. When sleep proved to be elusive, I would “entertain” myself by staying on my phone or using my laptop till I tired myself out around 2 a.m. Waking up hours later made me feel physically rested, but mentally and emotionally drained. Is it more of the same old thing again, I would ask myself. And the answer for the past nine months is yes. Yes, it is.

There are ways for the body to find rest. Or sleep, even. There was always exercise to tire one’s self out at the end of the day. I tried meditation apps (Calm even has a guided “sleep story” narrated by Harry Styles) or even anti-anxiety playlists on Spotify. But I found myself getting more agitated than anything else, until I realized that I didn’t like a white man telling me what to do or how to feel — even if he claimed to be some type of guru.

There’s also medication. Melatonin is an over-the-counter supplement that is used to treat short-term insomnia. It’s actually a hormone found in the body that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. When taken as medicine, melatonin can help with jet lag, or for dealing with erratic work schedules. I’ve taken it a few times myself, but I’ve heard of stories from friends who have developed an immunity to it. It would be a good quick fix, but certainly not an ideal habit-forming practice.

Even the beauty world has caught up. Lush developed cruelty-free body lotion Sleepy that has developed a pretty solid cult following, known to aid in restful sleeping. Containing natural ingredients, most prominently lavender (said to lower blood pressure and heart rate), Lush claims that slathering Sleepy all over the body before going to bed can give one a deeper, possibly longer slumber. The reviews on Sleepy have been mostly positive, but again — only as a short-term solution. At the end of the day, it’s still a depleting resource. That itself turned me off to the possibility of dependency.

Lush developed cruelty-free body lotion Sleepy that has developed a pretty solid cult following, known to aid in restful sleeping. Photo from LUSH U.S./OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Then there’s the weighted blanket. The idea of a weighted blanket thus felt appealing to me, because I didn’t have to keep buying it just to help me sleep. The science behind weighted blankets is that it mimics the feeling of being held through deep touch pressure. This type of therapeutic pressure allows the body to switch to a restful state, so even if you’re the type to toss and turn at night, the weighted blanket will, quite literally, weigh you down.

I was able to try out one (Blanket Hugs) for my personal sleep therapy. It’s said that you should get a blanket that is about 10% of your body weight, and the brand carries up to 30-pound blankets for king/queen size beds. They let me try the adult size, which weighs at 15 pounds and is about the same size as a double bed. At P5,999 per blanket, this is a significant investment, but it wasn’t like one would need to restock as regularly as supplements or body lotion. When it came to me, the blanket was neatly packed in a plastic bag (which you can use to store it during laundry day) and a washable, hypoallergenic bamboo cotton duvet — the weighted blanket itself shouldn’t be washed, only this.

The duvet cover felt really soft to the touch, and inserting the blanket was only mildly challenging. I was so excited that on the first night, I treated it like a social event: I made sure to wear nice pajamas, listen to a soothing playlist, and fluff my pillows before lying down. After a few minutes in it, I felt too warm and smothered; not quite the cozy cocoon that I was expecting. But when sleep finally found me, it was restful and dreamless.

It would take two more nights for the blanket and I to find our own rhythm. On the second night, I eschewed the PJs and wore as little clothing as possible. I even kept one foot out of the blanket — nighttime monsters be damned, I needed my body to breathe. But the sleep was consistently good. I no longer woke up in the middle of the night and made regrettable online purchases at 3 a.m. just to piss myself off into sleeping again. I understood how the blanket would weigh me down, not just physically, but also kept me tethered to a safer space. It was probably why I was no longer awoken by my restlessness.

A lot has happened in the three weeks since I started using a weighted blanket. Between then and now, the United States went through stressful national elections, and a peaceful transition of power remains elusive. The Philippines has not only reached 400 thousand COVID-19 cases, but parts of the country have been devastated by two different typhoons. We’re nowhere near recovery in any of these aspects.

I realize that it’s not so fun to talk about real world problems in such a personal, intimate experience. But sleep, I realize, has become just as political as everything else we do. I’ve come to you with my sleep anxiety and an incredible amount of privilege. I doubt that those struggling to survive, those who are still unable to rebuild their lives, have the ability to stop and think of the kind of sleep they’re having, or if they should help themselves out to a pill or two to give them the 7-8 hours they need.

This is just my compounded guilt speaking. At the end of the day, I still seek out that which is somehow within my reach — a good night’s sleep, aided by whatever is available to me. Did a weighted blanket absolutely change the game for me? It did, and I won’t deny it. I couldn’t believe it’s been less than a month since I started using one, because now I can’t imagine sleeping with anything else. Yet it would be unconscionable of me to say that you must buy one for yourself. Considering the world we live in, it is still an absolute luxury.

Yet while I’d encourage austerity where austerity is needed, I also believe in treating yourself with the kindness that you believe you deserve. The world is not showing signs of improvement; it’s an uphill climb, and I think everyone else can agree that we’re all pretty much spent emotionally and mentally. If a good night’s sleep is what it takes to get you through the day, if a blanket can help you fill the loss of intimacy that a pandemic has taken from you, then do it. These days, we all need a reason to feel alive.