A writer for The New Yorker writes that we are living through an epoch of interrupted sleep due to the restlessness and anxiety caused by the threat of the novel coronavirus Covid-19.
In an online speech to students at Harvard’s school of public health, Donn Posner, a Stanford associate professor and the president of Sleepwell Consultants, explained that the coronavirus pandemic has conjured a “perfect storm of sleep problems.”
Normally, between thirty and thirty-five per cent of Americans experience short-term insomnia; those numbers, Posner suggested, are likely increasing, thanks to the rhythmlessness, loneliness, and heightened anxiety of quarantine.
Unrest has a miasmic quality, like a viral cloud. “Think of sleep problems as infection,” Posner said. “We want to jump on it quickly . . . lest it spread.” Yet even this metaphor proves hard to contain. If insomnia behaves like a transmittable illness, it also reproduces the sensations of a “cure” for that transmission: self-isolation. There are the same borderless hours, the same waves of panic. “The night is itself without narrative,” Harvey observes. During bouts of little to no shut-eye, she reports, time moves “less like a stream flowing somewhere and more like water swilling in a shallow pool.” People lucky enough to be sheltering at home may recognize that feeling. With its double binds and reversals, life in a pandemic feels beholden to dream logic, to the unreason of lying awake in the dark.