No matter how much sleep I get, I want more. It doesn’t matter if I’m waking up at the butt-crack of dawn for an early flight or close to noon because my bones are aching from lack of movement. It seems to be not just an insurmountable deficit of rest but an animating feature of who I am: a guy who could always stand to lie down for a sec.
This creeping exhaustion puts me in good company. Last week, the rapper Post Malone unveiled a set of new facial tattoos: “Always Tired,” reads the motto under his eyes.
Whatever their feelings on the ink itself, fans were well disposed to relate. And why not? The idea of being Post Malone for even a day is deeply exhausting. But consider this: The dude is 22 years old, cresting the wave of a smash-hit sophomore album. In theory, the wunderkind who won the Soundcloud lottery with a song called “White Iverson” should be perpetually stoked.
He’s exhausted. We’re exhausted. So is everyone, it seems, under the age of 40.
Our generation should be out changing the world. Instead, we’re ready to die.
Depressed, Overstressed, Unemployed and Drunk: Why We’re Exhausted
On a personal score, I can chalk up regular bleariness to a drinking habit and a penchant for eating late into the night, both of which negatively affect one’s quality of sleep. I’m hardly alone in clinging to my pillow, however, even among the MEL staff. The data suggests that millennials in particular are sleeping longer, which feeds into stereotype that we’re lazy and unmotivated, as well as labels like “the Tired Generation.” (You’re welcome to debate until the heat death of the universe whether Post Malone is a millennial or Gen Z; the point is that younger people now routinely act as spent as your grandpa after two games of checkers.) A number of sketchy hypotheses have surfaced to explain it — maybe unemployment is to blame. Maybe we’re more depressed! Yet we’re also overstressed, and therefore, not deriving the benefits of prolonged sack time. And while extra sleep should in theory be good for the global economy — which is, after all, the important thing here — we’re apparently doing it wrong. Also, naps will kill you.
The News Is a Misery Machine
Humans have a pretty slight grasp on the nature of sleep in general, so looking for answers on this phenomenon invites more confusion. But then, outside of glitchy REM cycles, there’s cultural burnout to keep you awake and unfocused. A Pew Research poll this month found that 68 percent of Americans, besieged by insane stories of government corruption and global catastrophe, experience “news fatigue,” which will come as no surprise if you’re on Twitter, where insane headlines are typically shared along with the sentiment, “God, I’m so tired.” The Trump administration has a special talent for aging us as if in fast-forward, increasing the need to hide at home underneath blankets with the lights off and the white noise of an air conditioner singing us to some silent hours of relief. Sleep is an escape from the national nightmare, at least when we can get there, and therefore a precious commodity. Consciousness is a brutal enemy.
So Exhaustion Is a Meme. Are We Screwed?
The result is a social climate where tiredness becomes a shorthand for empathy and connection — we’re all dealing with it, so we all can freely cop to it. We’re working 80-hour weeks to make rent in a dystopian gig economy. We’re staring at phones and computer screens that sap our mental energy and leave us physically depleted. The advent of electricity itself means we don’t get the shuteye our forebears did 150 years ago. Instead of saying, “Good morning,” then, we may greet each other at the office on Monday with a comment like, “Ugh, I’m wiped already,” or “Sorry, my brain’s not on yet.”
That’s fine as far as racking up viral memes and cutting each other slack for the occasional somnolent screw-up goes, yet we cannot continue fetishizing drowsiness forever. Lack of decent rest will, in the end, speed our transformation into goddamn lunatics. It’s true that today’s younger demographics have faced struggles their parents didn’t, but my mom and dad still worked damn hard for what they have, and I cannot for the life of me recall them so much as yawning before 11 p.m.
The cult of exhaustion feeds on perpetual complaint and the certainty that we will never “catch up” with a well-balanced version of ourselves — or the world. That said, I’m not sure how I can quit whining about my own lethargy; this piece is just one more way to express a desire to crawl back to bed. Maybe we could shut the country down for a year and give everyone the chance to develop a healthier sleep schedule. And during that period, please, I beg of you: a blackout on celebrity face tattoo news. I swear it’s gonna put me into a coma.