While You Were Sleeping

On knocking myself out

Some of us are blessed with the talent of being good sleepers—people who nap on the subway or kind of slump over when the plane takes off, and wake up in Rome or whatever. I’m not one of them. 

My sleep would probably get like a C+ in school—around the beginning of the panettone, I started sleeping in distinct shifts: about 4 hours of rest, then an hour-or-two-long break to anxiously scroll online in the dark, then about 3 or 4 more hours of actual sleep. My friend Sam often has a similar schedule, so when we realize we’re both on Twitter at 4am, we’ll DM funny tweets to each other, back and forth with no commentary. Just a way of saying, “I see you, and I meet you where you are. (In hell.)”

At one point, I noticed that my middle-of-the-night internet binges aligned with when people in Europe were logging on and fucking around, so Twitter would be filled with Londoners posting about Strictly Come Dancing or Nando’s. In that way, my insomnia bursts are really a form of cultural study—I’m like the Margaret Mead of not sleeping. 

I was a fussy sleeper even as a kid—my parents called me Princess & the Pea because of my finicky mattress and sheet preferences. They also called me Veruca Salt when I was being a brat, and Lady Miss Kier when I’d get dressed in garish 70’s thrift-store clothes just to go to our local diner. I’m painting a picture here that I frankly do not like. 

As an adult obsessed with self-optimization, I decided to tackle my sleep issues by creating an environment that’s as close as you can get to making your bedroom a sensory-deprivation tank. I’ve tried at least 12 different kinds of sleep masks, 4 white-noise machines, and enough earplugs to fill a kiddie pool. I also sleep with a dental retainer. (Andrew is a lucky man.) 

I hate having this many high-maintenance processes—it runs contrary to the “chill vibes” persona I’d like to cultivate. Instead of being a cool adventurer who eats a filthy root on Naked & Afraid, I’m like a Persian cat on a silk pillow being brushed by a supplicant. But my loss of coolness is your gain, because here are the heavily tested products I literally cannot sleep without. (One is from Amazon and I KNOW, and don’t email me about it.) 

MZOO Sleep Eye Mask:

If I were the announcer on Price Is Right, I’d introduce this by saying, “You’ll be MZOOming to sleep while wearing...,” and then a woman who looks like the city of Phoenix in human form would hold it up. I’ve tried so many masks, and the ones that claim to block out all light almost never actually do, but the contoured foam pieces on these sort of cup your eyes like swim goggles. They’re as close as I’ve come to a FBE (full blackout experience) and are great for people who RSW (rarely sleep well).


Some white-noise machines have an actual fan inside, so when you turn it on, you’re listening to the sound of the fan spinning. What is the sound of one fan whirring? The answer is: Not loud enough to drown out the guy playing “Boom Boom Pow” from a parked car directly beneath your Brooklyn window. For a deluxe level of blockage, you’ll want this tiny-but-intense machine that blasts digital white noise at your face with a massive range of styles and volumes. (It proudly says it can be “many times louder” than air conditioners, which is great if you want to multitask by losing your hearing while you sleep.) This creates white, pink, and brown noises—a veritable Neapolitan ice cream of sound.

Hearos Ultimate Softness Earplugs:

Why do I need earplugs when I’m already using a white-noise machine, I hear you ask? Because you need DOUBLE-LAYERED PROTECTION, I scream, and you wince before muttering “OK, sorry.” This momentary friction between us makes me a little embarrassed, and our relationship becomes strained. Now when you pass me on the sidewalk, you pretend not to recognize me outside the fish market, even though there aren’t any other redheaded women with a “Rude Dude” T-shirt living in your neighborhood. When our mutual friends mention you in conversation, I have to act like I’m not interested, even though I fruitlessly Google you triannually. Anyway, these are the best earplugs you can buy, and yes they do look like the tips of children’s fingers.

It’s a lot of gadgets and props, I know. But they’re my gadgets and props, and if they result in even a couple more hours of sleep each night—enough to dream about driving around Miami with my poetry professor, or kissing the guy from Kong: Skull Island in a treehouse—that works for me.