O.G.H. Savage

Technologically Sanitising the Bedroom

A man sleeps with his laptop lit up

How is sleeping with your laptop and phone close by related to addiction, and is our obsession with productivity making us feel too guilty?

Roger Federer Sleeps a Lot

This is a terrible state of affairs. After announcing in a podcast a few months ago that the good-looking scientist Andrew Huberman is not only a good-looking scientist but also fairly evil, he has now been officially outed as evil, meaning that in the middle of penning a piece on him I have been usurped by the media. Whereas I had thought that the root of Hubes’ sin could be found in him having made a large percentage of YouTubers feel guilty, it turns out he’s highly manipulative and has a string of women on the go, all believing that they are the only one dating him. I was going for a far more sophisticated takedown but it turns out he’s just plain old evil in a fairly conventional sense.

But this isn’t all about Huberman. It never was. A while ago, I set out to write an article on sleep hygiene and my increasingly intimate relationship with my sofa. I’ve been thinking a lot about technology addiction recently and, as this series of Blog Standard is addiction-based, I thought I’d ruminate on it for the good of the public. You see, the couch and my addiction to technology are intricately intertwined. They are almost impossible to separate.

For a while now, I have been trying to effectively self-parent, purposefully thinking of myself as a child who must be presented with a set of reliable rules in order to thrive. Just as a young person should be given a consistent sleeping experience to feel a sense of routine, I have tried to do the same for myself. Part of this involved preventing myself from watching Netflix in bed until the early hours, lit by the dismal glow of flashing pixels in a state of half-awakeness, fully aware of the consequences of such a half-hearted sleep.

I heard a while back that Roger Federer – king of tennis classiness, flasher of Swiss watches, bearer of a strange amount of twins in a way that emphasises his tennis godliness, and lacker of an actual personality having spent his entire life on a tennis court – sleeps 12 hours a day. He seems dangerously calm and he’s bloody good at tennis. This sparked my interest in sleep, something I haven’t paid much attention to since childhood when I was forced to do it in a reasonable quantity. I mean, everybody sleeps. Everybody has had at least a little think about their sleeping habits. So this one’s about sleep hygiene and the evils of Andrew Huberman, all within the remit of my online addiction series.

Here we go.

The Death of Leafy 1 

As I perch on the edge of my sofa, a nicotine pill falls from between my thumb and forefinger, bouncing conveniently onto the top of my foot, from which I flick it up into my hand in a satisfied manner. I almost wish somebody had seen, such was the coordinational skill. It was a nicotine pill though, so the fact that I’m doing anything with one, even if it’s skilful, is probably an embarrassment.

Vasileia, my Greek housemate, walks in wearing her ladybird dressing gown and with tears in her eyes. I ask her what is wrong.

‘Leafy 1 has died’. Lia has a collection of leaf insects named Leafy 1, Leafy 2, and Leafy 3 in her room and is a proud entomologist (or insect expert).

‘Sorry to hear that’. I say, attempting to console her.

‘You know, it’s not about Leafy 1, it’s… what the fuck kind of an insect expert and I if I can’t keep a leaf insect alive for more than 2 weeks? If anyone from the insect world hears about this, I will be so embarrassed. SO embarrassed’. Lia is still recovering from the time that some of her entomologist colleagues came around and pointed out that one of her ornate posters, named Insects X1, had a spider on it. For Lia, the mere idea that she could be thought of as lacking such rudimentary insect knowledge was a nightmare.

‘I’m sure it will be ok. We can hold a little service for him. Or her. Did we ever find out its sex?’

‘The males have wings. I told you this weeks ago’.

‘Oh yes. Sorry. Anyhow, how’s it going with your Beethis?’ Lia has undertaken a thesis on bee behaviour.

‘It’s ok. The experiments are going well. I was only stung twice today. How are things with Harry Pill? You went to the pub with him yesterday, no?’.

‘I keep telling you, it’s Peel. There’s a long vowel. And it’s not so good actually. We had a small argument about what we should call our Birthday event, but I won’t bore you with the detail’.

Both being relatively introverted, Harry Peel and I decided to hold a joint birthday last year named Crabfest, utilising the fact that we are both Cancers. We had crab-based decorations and a crab cocktail menu, featuring drinks like a Tom Clawins. I reckon we hit upon a great idea – the solution for all introverts who fear the attention brought about by their own, individual birthday. Instead, you find others who share your star sign and morph it into one big party. That said, Crab Fest last year wasn’t a big event. We only had a few visitors and had to reverse our cancer-only policy a few days before the event over fears about numbers, deciding that the hosts had to be Cancers, but allowing guests of any sign.

This year, I was excited to inform Harry Peel that I had come up with the name Absolutely Crabulous. It would be a subtitle of sorts. Like Crab Fest 24: Absolutely Crabulous. To my surprise, Peel didn’t take kindly to the name, declaring it too obvious. Instead, he wanted to make it more political and call it I Fought the Claw and the Claw Won, which I deemed convoluted and contrived. The mood then noticeably soured and we cut the evening short.

I might propose Crust Nation to him and see if that flies, but it’s hard to know with Peel.

It’s the Moon’s Fault

 
Anyway, back to my sofa, upon which I sit when Lia shuffles off to mourn the death of Leafy 1 alone. In recent years, I have gotten into the habit of going to sleep while watching things on my laptop; I have become increasingly addicted to sleeping with the computer about ten centimetres from the tip of my nose, usually playing some kind of series – a perfect mixture of stimulating and unchallenging so that it forms a soothing background noise. Occasionally, I turn down the brightness entirely, yet the laptop’s presence in the bed remains simultaneously draining and comforting.

This hasn’t always been the case. I used to be fairly wholesome. I used to read myself to sleep every night, aided by the olfactory blanket that was my Muji lavender scent diffuser. Back then, I was on a good eight hours a night, never turning over to manoeuvre a technological device so that I didn’t end up choked to death by my own charger (there’s no way I’m going out like that). Now, a sophisticated book with its innocent, non-illuminated pages has been replaced by some bland Netflix documentary, the latest sport or psychopath-based tale they’ve managed to churn out for mass consumption.

There must be more like me, tossing and turning and Netflixing and turning again as each hour morphs into the next and becomes less distinguishable than it used to be. I can’t be the only one unable to escape my waking addiction to technology and the constant flight from presence. Sleep is one of our exits from the stream of addiction, but even this is compromised by the eternal rush, the disturbing need to be engaged, the failure to tune out.

I’ve noticed that people often blame their poor sleep on the moon. Whenever you mention a bad sleep at work or another social scenario, people’s eyes knowingly widen and they proceed to reference moon behaviour in a fairly earnest manner. I go along with this to side-step the reality that I’ve willingly invited a far more powerful light than the moon into my sleeping area. The moon is nothing compared to what I’m sleeping with, a small lamp in the sky. It is of little concern to me.

If Huberman Could See Me Now
It was at a particularly low point in my nocturnal screen gazing that I listened to a podcast by Andrew Huberman, the good-looking American neuroscientist and podcaster whose Huberman Lab gives sciency tools in the broad area of improving one’s health and quality of life. If you haven’t listened to Huberman, his podcasts usually lead to a temporary high gained from realising some kind of life hack, which is then replaced by a creeping sense of guilt from failing to implement said life hack.

This time, Huberman flashed up on YouTube discussing the importance of removing technological devices from your place of sleep. According to Hubes, sleeping with your phone, laptop, iPad or whatever it is in the bed is a recipe for poor sleep. We should instead learn to associate our place of sleep with only sleep, by removing the things that we spend our waking hours engaged with and addicted to. It made a lot of sense and all of this optimisation started to work on me. Every time I shuffled over to bed and fired up the laptop, I’d sideways glance across to the mirror, guiltily thinking

‘Christ. If Huberman could see me now’. I mean, God knows what he’d think. He’d be repulsed I’m sure, lying in his own technologically sanitised bed with one of his countless mistresses/nascent wives, as far from technology as it is possible to be.

Not to totally dismiss the validity of Huberman’s advice, but I think that a lot of his success is down to his looks. A man of large stature, Huberman radiates health. One can’t help but start to think that they too would look like Hubes if they simply got their act together, went on a long walk in the sunshine before having their first coffee, stopped eating too many carbs, having the odd drink or binging series. These examples of poor habits are very much just the tip of the Huberman iceberg. The stream of potential optimisation is endless, matched only by the stream of guilt produced by being aware of one’s failure to avoid such bad habits.

[Side note: I’ve got a mate (I won’t mention his name) who goes in hard for all this stuff. Every time I visit him or he visits me, I end up having been duped into some life hack which I believe is going to elevate me to the next level. He’s just so damn positive that it’s hard not to end up getting caught in his tractor beam of optimism and health. Last time, he saw me hunched over my laptop like a crow with particularly bad posture and pointed to his device, which I noticed was slightly elevated. He had acquired an invention called a Moft and with his laptop held aloft by his Moft he proudly sat, neck straight like somebody from an advert. Needless to say, I had ordered myself a Moft within the hour. The time before it was digestive walks. According to him, the period spent digesting at work rarely sees one get much done. Therefore, he insists on going on short walks whenever he has digested anything and last time he visited me in Copenhagen, we went on countless walks of this kind. I never let on that I secretly wanted to sit around digesting, since this is a period of the day that I quite enjoy. Sometimes I wash down a coffee during the digestion period, but this isn’t the sort of behaviour I’d reveal to my friend, or Huberman for that matter.]

So, with a healthy dose of Huberman-based guilt I decided that my behaviour had to change. My marked decline in wholesomeness and increase in knackeredness meant I no longer wished to be beholden to my 24-hour screen addiction and decided that reducing it to even sixteen would constitute a victory. I thus set out on a mission to — (what I like to call) — technologically sanitise the bedroom. This involved removing the laptop and phone from my bed and over to the sofa, where I deemed it to be far enough away not to interfere with my state of rest (I hadn’t, and indeed still haven’t, graduated to considering removing the electronics from the bedroom altogether).

Man sleeps in the dark with his laptop

On the first night, I tried to return to reading in my bed clean of technology but soon discovered this was a losing game. The wholesomeness-deficit had gone too far and I was now truly incapable of sleeping when left alone with my thoughts. Then came the attempt at reading, but what had in the past allowed me to drift off now simply stimulated more thinking. Perhaps it was the absence of my lavender smell diffuser that was making the difference – after a trip to Muji to accumulate one, I discovered that this too did not work…

As hour shifted into sleepless hour, I found myself glancing over at the technologically rich corner of my bedroom where the phone and laptop lay, along with that enticing, perfectly shaped sofa. The suffering was unbearable, and on the second night I crept over to the phone. After some innocent scrolling, I put a podcast on in the dark (at one point Huberman did mention that sound is better than visual stimulation). I was willing to accept being this kind of second-class citizen of the dream world. I could make peace with it. The podcast got me to sleep after a few hours, but by the night after I’d run out of willpower and came up with a great idea: I realised that if I slept on the sofa instead, I would be able to return to the comfort of falling asleep in front of the laptop while having technically technologically sanitised the sleeping space. The only issue is that my bed now serves little purpose; an empty vessel on the other side of my room. I’m now sleeping on the sofa full-time, but I think I’m enjoying it.

For a lot of reasons Huberman would be very disappointed with me. I still think of that hot, disapproving and unbearably healthy scientist as I glance over to my mirror, lit by the blue light of nocturnal technology, surrounded by devices, yet somehow happy. I don’t find his life particularly relaxing anyway, so, you know, fuck off Huberman, that’s what I say. It turns out he’s evil anyway, so I now feel no pressure to live by his silly, joyless rules.

The Shifty Annexe and the Argentinian Masseuse

I started out on my sanitising mission having realised that to battle the mental and physical hardships of life, one should begin by making themselves as healthy as possible. A while back, I was having a massage in a somewhat odd annexe of an Argentinian physio’s house in outer Copenhagen. Having heightened rather than decreased my stress levels by citing about five major issues with my back, she asked me how much water I drink, to which I replied, like most people, probably not nearly enough. I’ve always struggled to take in enough water as I find it is more often than not a joyless activity. It makes me think of my mate Jack Smith – a real person with an unrealistically generic name – telling me how his grandparents stopped drinking water twenty years ago. They gladly survive on only coffee and booze, having dismissed water as superfluous.

The masseuse told me to treat water like medicine to make it more palatable. I like this approach. It’s a great way of convincing yourself to do things you don’t want to do. I also encountered this in the film Stutz, where Jonah Hill interviews his therapist. When his patients are particularly low, Stutz tells them to both get their body moving through exercise and go and hang out with somebody, even if it’s somebody they don’t particularly like. These kinds of approaches give us the tools to do beneficial things even when it is not obvious how they’ll help. In this way, Huberman is useful. If you did manage to implement even a few of his healthy habits, I’m sure you’d see an improvement in general happiness.

However, these approaches assume that our decisions happen without environmental factors. When you attempt to change an unhealthy for a healthy pattern of behaviour, that choice does not occur in a vacuum but is affected by the quality of your environment. We do not exist on a level playing field where each of us has the simple choice of whether to engage in unhealthy behaviours or not. Instead, our ability to make such decisions is determined by the financial, social, or emotional stress we experience. In this way, the unrealistic expectations set out by Huberman, Jordan Peterson and other internet sensations regarding how we should live our lives only serve to increase guilt for not being able to live up to them. Try telling cleaners on London’s busses, making their way to clean office buildings in the middle of the night, that they really should be getting a bit more sleep and not having a coffee until they’ve been awake for two hours.

In Mark Fischer’s Capitalist Realism, he says that:

‘We are made to live lives that are unacceptable, and it’s time we heighten our expectations from life in a manner that suits the way society is evolving. There’s no longer a valid excuse for populations to have to do terrible jobs at ungodly hours, jobs that destroy their ability to live a healthy and happy life’.

This destruction of the ability to live a healthy and happy life is exactly why we do not make even choices regarding the behaviours we engage in. The emotional stress of difficult life conditions morphs into the desire to escape that stress through behaviours that temporarily bring us joy. There is no doubt that smoking, drinking, eating outrageously salty and fatty foods, even sleeping on the sofa with a cosy laptop playing when you’re knackered do give temporary joy, and this is why it is more important to focus on changing the conditions we live by than our individual choice. To live lives where we obsess over our individual choices and failures is to engage in a useful mechanism of power for those who do not wish to see its material conditions change.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of optimisation. It gives us the feeling that we are in control of our lives and in many ways it works. However, a world of people being beamed optimisation techniques on YouTube while they sit alone in a society that doesn’t make them feel good enough to engage in healthy, sustainable habits isn’t optimal. Instead, we should have a long, hard think and a long, hard chat about why we’re all so unhappy.

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