Here’s another one for the Well, Duh file. Women need more sleep.
I bring this up not because I like to make Well, Duh-style proclamations. On the contrary; I tend to prefer proclamations of the Wowee! variety. I bring it up because this week, Arianna Huffington and Glamour magazine EIC Cindi Leive have issued a New Year’s Call to Arms on the Huffington Post: “Sleep Challenge 2010: Women, It’s Time to Sleep Our Way to the Top. Literally.”
Sounds great, right? Not so fast. As Feministing’s Jessica put it:
But here’s the thing – what Huffington and Leive are really talking about is sexism, not sleep.
Let’s back up, shall we? From the HuffPo piece:
“Women are significantly more sleep-deprived than men,” confirms Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. “They have so many commitments, and sleep starts to get low on the totem pole. They may know that sleep should be a priority, but then, you know, they’ve just got to get that last thing done. And that’s when it starts to get bad.”
…Getting a good night’s sleep, of course, is easier said than done. You have to tune out a host of temptations, from Letterman to the PTA to your e-mail inbox — and most of all, to ignore the workaholic wisdom that says you’re lazy for not living up to the example set by Madonna, Martha Stewart and other notorious self-professed never-sleepers. Of course, the truth is the opposite: You’ll be much more likely to be a professional powerhouse if you’re not asleep at the wheel. (Even Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep, later admitted, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” Huh! ) The problem is that women often feel that they still don’t “belong” in the boys-club atmosphere that still dominates many workplaces. So they often attempt to compensate by working harder and longer than the next guy. Hard work helps women fit in and gain a measure of security. And because it works, they begin to do more and more and more of it until they can’t stop. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory: The workaholism leads to lack of sleep, which in turn leads to never being able to do your best. In fact, many women do this on purpose, fueled by the mistaken idea that getting enough sleep means you must be lazy or less than passionate about your work and your life.
Maybe. Or maybe, as Dr. Breus pointed out, it’s more to do with the fact that many of us are so overloaded with tasks and to-dos, first shifts and second shifts, there simply isn’t any time left over for sleep. (And it’s worth mentioning that the not getting enough sleep thing is a notoriously vicious cycle: The more we take on, the more stressed we are about all we have to get done–and how and when we’re going to get it done. And stress has a rather nasty way of messing with our zzzs. And, in the face of a packed day after a restless night, well, coffee becomes our BFF–until, like a fickle 5 year-old, the clock strikes X and we ditch that BFF for another one–named Malbec. Or whatever. And then we go to bed, worrying about whether or not sleep will come… Rinse, repeat.)
Sleep deprivation, of course, comes with all sorts of nasty side effects, as the HuffPo piece points out. Among them: illness, stress, traffic accidents, weight gain (let no fat card go unplayed). But wait, there’s more!
Rob yourself of sleep, ladies, and you’ll find you never function at your personal best. Work decisions, relationship challenges, any life situation that requires you to know your own mind–they all require the judgment, problem-solving and creativity that only a rested brain is capable of and are all handled best when you bring to them the creativity and judgment that are enhanced by sleep.
Well yeah. Who could argue with that? We all know we should get more sleep. We know how it feels to slog through a busy day in the fog of exhaustion–how impossible it is to think straight. But what rubs me wrong about the whole thing is this: I can’t shake the sense that this is yet another instance in which something that’s societal, systemic, is trivialized by framing it as a personal issue. Yes, we should all aim to get a little more sleep. But the fact is, the modern workplace–of which women are on track to become the majority, like, any second now–is still set up as though the workers who fill it were Don Draper clones, men with a full-time Betty at home, able to take care of all of the stuff that keeps a life running smoothly. But the ladies (and gentlemen) of today don’t have a Betty. She took off to Vegas, baby. So we do our best Don–and then we make the time to get Betty’s job done, too. We work our full day–and then we fold the clothes. And do the grocery shopping. And pick up the dry cleaning. And attempt to cook healthy items (or contend with the parking lot at our favorite take-out joint), to exercise, to socialize, to sleep. To quote Germaine Greer yet again:
When we talk about women having it all, what they really have all of is the work.
Or, as Lisa Belkin put it, over at the NYT Motherlode:
The reason women don’t sleep as well as men is not because of our misguided workaholic tendencies, or our short-sighted need to prove ourselves, but because the world, as it is constructed, gives women more to DO. Particularly during the hours when we should be sleeping. Some of this we can’t control — a baby who needs to nurse at 1 a.m. and again at 3 a.m., for instance, or the fact that at least one study found women wake more easily to a baby’s cry than men. We have those hormonal insomnia issues, too, and, with time, hot flashes and night sweats.
Other reasons are handed to us by society. The expectation is that mom will work a second shift, filling her evening with homework checking and lunch fixing and bedtime storytelling and clutter picking-upping and laundry sorting. Then, after that, so many of us get back to the pile of work we brought home from the office — an office we left early in order to be home for dinner. Yes, men do this more and more in many homes, but the social expectation is that this is still a mother’s job, and shaking it requires more than a simple declaration that we will get more sleep.
It’s enough to make me cry out for my blankie! So what are we to do, aside from putting ourselves down for a little bonus shut-eye every now and then? A good start might be recognizing the only marginally deeper truths in “personal challenges” likes this for the eye-openers that they are.