As I waited for the blanket to arrive, the world’s angst levels only seemed to increase. Crowds of angry demonstrators in yellow vests streamed directly past my building opposite the train station on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin and down towards Place de la Republique, filling the air with smoke from flares while the police attempted to disperse the crowd with tear gas. Protesters dressed in black smashed shop windows and sprayed defiant graffiti on the banks and wine shops that had already been barricaded with plywood. There was no Metro, no buses, and my street was blocked by police vans.
My Gravity Blanket, ordered via Amazon in Britain, had no hope of penetrating the turmoil.
While I waited, I read the reviews, many of which appear to be written by what I’d call “insomnia dilettantes,” saying that it knocked them right out. But these are the temporarily sleep-deprived; people who might sleep better if only they went to bed on time, stopped drinking so much coffee, and refrained from scrolling through upsetting tweets on their phones late at night.
For a chronic insomniac like me, managing sleep can be incredibly time-consuming. I try to practice impeccable sleep hygiene myself because the alternative is untenable. A lack of sleep starts small, but it can spiral. Studies have found the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain and body to be quite dire. Without sleep, you risk your health, your job, your relationships, your sanity, even your life.
I’m not alone in my sleeplessness; Some 70 million Americans struggle with insomnia, according to the CDC. And where are these sleepless multitudes? We are online. We go to our computers for things like rest, comfort, and connection, even if we rarely find them there. Online, we are together, but we are fractured. Sequential rather than concurrent. There are two panes of glass between every interaction. We crave connection, and we crave rest. Instead, we buy bedding.
This widespread insomnia has inspired some truly bizarre inventions. The Somnox Sleep Robot (currently on sale for $556) is a plush, kidney-shaped “sleep companion” the approximate size and weight of an infant that “breathes” with you throughout the night. The soothing sounds and gentle movement that it produces are supposed to help you stay more deeply asleep and simulate “affection.” The Guardian’s “Wellness or Hellness” columnist Rhik Samadder wrote that sleeping with a Somnox was like “being in bed with a baby Darth Vader.”
The Somnox, like the Gravity Blanket, is truly an invention for lonely times. In this digital age, and the era of #MeToo, many people have grown increasingly averse to social touch and, as a result, everyone’s probably a little touch-starved or, as it has also been called, “skin-hungry.”
I would not describe myself as touch-starved, but who wouldn’t want to try a blanket that feels like a hug? Just weeks ago I had no real idea what a weighted blanket even was, and now, suddenly, I was desperate to get my hands on one. It was starting to show all the marks of a true capitalist luxury item: The overwhelming urge to buy a thing you never knew you needed.
I was, however, slightly worried that my blanket would not be as transformative as the ad copy had promised. Like other fads, such as the Instant Pot, the SodaStream, or the K-beauty sheet mask, perhaps it would turn out to be just another moderately useful thing that attained cult status before receding back out of the limelight and into people’s closets.
I was promised my blanket three days earlier, but it had still not arrived. I called UPS and learned that although they had tried several times to deliver the package in my protest-stricken neighborhood, their drivers had now given up. My blanket had been sent to a pick-up point, a store a few streets over.
After dark, I went out, stepping over the broken glass of smashed shop windows, with the smoke from flares in the air and police vans still swarming the boulevards, to the little market where I was told my blanket awaited. But there was no box with my name on it. The blanket had not come.
Maybe the anticipation was part of my blanket’s mystical appeal. It had started to take on mythic qualities, like a medieval magic potion asking me to collect the tears of a white doe born of a white stag, under the light of a full moon on a cloudless night. The more unattainable the ingredient, the more potent its assumed effects.