Just Go to Bed Tonight

There’s no rule that says you have to stay up to be an informed member of the republic.

Person in bed, looking at election returns on a phone
No. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Years ago, I found myself with no appealing New Year’s Eve plans, so I did something that felt radical to my twentysomething self: I ordered Thai, had a beer (maybe two), watched some TV, then went to bed at 10 p.m. I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed, rather than with my usual Jan. 1 hit-by-a-truck-while-seasick hangover. I’ve since become an evangelist for going to bed on the one night you’re supposed to stay up late. And this year, I think we should all try it another night: Nov. 3.

Like New Year’s Eve, election night is mostly hype. You drink and wait and drink and wait and drink and wait. On TV, people who look vaguely familiar ramble on, desperate to fill the minutes before the real things happen. Just like the New Year’s Eve scans of the ball sparkling or Mariah Carey standing backstage, you have to witness Florida doing something bad before Florida does anything meaningful, an exit poll that suggests something, maybe, but really nothing yet. None of it matters. On election night, cable TV—the megaphone of our anxiety—is particularly excruciating. You tune in, afraid you’ll miss something, but nothing happens until at least 9 p.m. Eastern time, when polls are closing and results are beginning to trickle in. You’ve already spent the day doom-scrolling, searching for any crumb of hope or despair, and you’re exhausted. And now you’re blasted with panels of overconfident men spewing treatises on What It All Means—when they know nothing more than you or me.

There’s no rule that says you must participate in this to be an informed member of the republic. You simply don’t have to do it! Pour a glass of wine, watch a few episodes of the Nadiya season of Bake Off, and go to bed. Yes, even you, West Coasters!

I know, I know, this election really matters. But you know what else happened this year? A pandemic, which prompted tons of mail-in and early voting. Some states aren’t even going to start counting those ballots until Wednesday. And on election night, this could create a “red mirage,” which will do exactly nothing to help any Biden voter’s anxiety. It’s another solid reason to just go to bed. CNN or NPR or Twitter will still be furiously reporting results when you wake up, and they’ll be more complete by then anyway (we hope).

If you know you’ll just lay in bed tossing and turning anyway, if you need to stay up to learn something, here’s a backup plan: Don’t even think about turning on the TV on until 8:45 Eastern time, and give yourself a hard out at midnight. Networks don’t call states before their polls close starting around 7 or 8 Eastern, and the most crucial states likely won’t be called immediately. So instead of spending the early evening stress-watching TV (or scrolling Twitter) while anticipating the official demise of democracy, give yourself a several-hour screen-free breather. Do some yoga, take your dog for a walk, cook an elaborate dinner. Remember: No one knows anything anyway!

Need evidence? I did a brief survey of the past few presidential elections, to see when the winner passed 270 Electoral College votes:

1992, Clinton: 11 p.m. ET (NYT)
1996, Clinton: 9 p.m. ET (AP)
2000, Bush: lol
2004, Bush: circa 11 a.m. ET Wednesday (CNN)
2008, Obama: 11:03 p.m. ET (CBS)
2012, Obama: 11:39 p.m. ET (AP)
2016, Trump: 2:29 a.m. ET Wednesday (AP)

There’s a pretty clear pattern here. Nothing exciting happens before 9 and nothing good happens after midnight. All the more reason to go to bed!

I fully admit that I’m a hypocrite: There’s no way in hell I’m going to bed at my usual hour on Nov. 3. That’s mostly because my job requires me to stay awake, but even if it didn’t, there’s zero chance I would be able to sleep without the assistance of heavy drugs or a shovel to the back of the head, neither of which Slate’s lawyers would likely allow me to recommend to you. Maybe that’s why I’m imploring you, dear reader, to do what I cannot: Go to sleep. Get some rest. Do it for those of us who can’t.

Plus, it’s crucial for some people to be well-rested to deal with whatever’s left when the dust settles Wednesday morning. 2020 has been hard enough, and there’s every indication that we’re in rough seas for a good long while, even if Joe Biden wins easily. The pandemic isn’t going away, the Supreme Court has moved terrifyingly far to the right, and our planet is still burning. It’s all too much, and we still have to care. But spending election night fretting in front of talking heads will not help. It will all still be there when the sun comes up. And maybe, with any luck, it will actually be a tiny bit better.