Going to bed after midnight and waking by 6 seems to be the norm for many women. And once they are in bed, according to the American Psychological Association, 46% of women lie awake because of stress. (source).
From a health perspective there’s plenty of evidence that we should get more sleep…which makes it interesting to consider why women don’t.
Sleep can be difficult due to medical conditions
It’s true. Some conditions, like sleep apnea, affect both women and men. But others are more specific to females, such as:
– Thyroid conditions (much more common among women)
– Nutrient deficiencies (common especially after using birth control pills)
– Cyclical hormones
– Menopause symptoms
There are also mental and emotional causes
The American Psychological Association reports that women are – in general – more stressed than men.
Recently, I was talking to a dad who taught his 13 year old daughter how to gouge out the eyeballs of any man who tried to attack her. I remember these types of lessons from my own adolescence. Carry your keys between your fingers! If he grabs you, don’t struggle – just drop straight down and run. And always, always pull the blinds at night and lock the doors.
If and when motherhood arrives, we are on yet another level of high alert. Is the baby ok? Is the baby crying? Does the baby need me? We are hard wired to respond this way. Even as kids get older, mom still waits quietly by the window to make sure her 18 year old gets home safely.
And goodness knows that women are stressed about how they look, if they are liked, and if they are doing enough. More on THAT in just a sec.
It’s as if hypervigilance – the opposite of restful sleep – is baked into womanhood.
Trouble sleeping? No surprise.
But cultural reasons may play the biggest role of all
Women have told me that their lack of sleep is a fact of life: There’s no way they could meet the demands of life otherwise. They are waking up pre-dawn to exercise, working all day, taking care of kids and using the nighttimes to cook and take care of the household. It feels like nothing can give.
Other women relish their late-night hours because it’s the only time they have to themselves, to relax or do meaningful work. After all, leisure is only “allowed” after all the to-do’s are done, Cinderella style.
This is a symptom of a culture that tells women: You have to do it all.
It’s the message we’ve received since we were little girls. Yes, you can have a career – you can be anything you want to be! And a family! And you can be beautiful and a size 6 and continue to look young as you age and have a spotless home and make Pinterest craft projects and become a caretaker for your aging parents…And. And. And.
It does feel liberating compared to living life like a 50’s housewife, pre-birth control. To be sure.
But culturally we never told the guys…hey, you can have it all, too. You can be a stay at home dad and that’s cool. You can do laundry, you can become a great cook. You can manage a household and spend lots of time with your kids. You can remember to buy toilet paper.
The story around men stayed the same while the story around women expanded.
So we straddle the gap. And there’s no time to sleep.
Lack of sleep matters because…
Hello, insulin resistance!
Just a couple of nights without sufficient sleep – or poor quality sleep – makes our cells more resistant to insulin. This can lead to a constellation of problems, including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and high triglycerides.
Appetite control gets out of whack
Lack of sleep causes alterations in the hormones that signal when the body is hungry or full. (If you tend to feel more hungry when you’re tired, this is why!) Plus, staying up late at night means that we are simply awake more hours and probably eating more.
Insufficient sleep triggers our body’s stress response system. So if you were stressed before, now you’re REALLY feeling it. Sounds familiar, right?
Damn, sleep affects everything!
Without it, we are at greater risk of depression, overweight, impaired immunity (including cancer cell monitoring), hormonal imbalance, decreased cognitive function, etc.
Sleep is the #1 tool in our toolbox
It’s free, available to everyone, and makes an enormous difference in how we look, feel and age. And it’s a way of claiming your time and body as your own.
Yes, let’s do that, shall we?