Going to bed at night is not always a pleasant experience for women. For some, like me, it’s often fraught with anxiety: Will I/won’t I be able to nod off? How many hours will it take? What time will I wake up?
Unfortunately, when very senior women like Arianna Huffington and Sheryl Sandberg talk about sleep being a pillar of success, such anxiety only gets worse.
The Huffington Post founder and Facebook COO shared a stage back in 2014 where they continually referenced the benefits of sleep on a woman’s career. Indeed, they went so far as to say women should ‘sleep their way to the top’, both bemoaning what they perceive is a commonly held belief that the best way for a woman to be more productive was to simply get stuff done during the night.
Huffington’s been a sleep advocate since collapsing from exhaustion back in 2007 after a long stint of working 18 hour days. Waking up in a pool of blood in her office with a broken cheekbone and large cuts to her face, she realised she was “clearly not successfully’ if that was the result.
She believes we need to adjust our relationship with sleep writing recently that, “Sleep, or how little of it we need, has become a symbol of our prowess. We make a fetish of not getting enough sleep, and we boast about how little sleep we get … The most basic shift we can make in redefining success in our lives has to do with our strained relationship with sleep.”
So it’s simple: Get over believing a lack of sleep makes you ‘successful’ and start getting more of the deep slumber stuff if you really want to get ahead.
But to all the sleep advocates out there here’s the thing: I, like many women, would love to get more sleep. I even go out of my way to get to bed early and schedule the maximum possible potential sleeping time. The problem is I can’t actually get to sleep. I lie awake for hours. I read — trying to avoid all electronics for fear of dropping the melatonin levels. When that gets too difficult I move to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. And the next thing I know I’m sitting at my desk thinking that if I’m going to be exhausted in the morning I may as well get some work done in the middle of the night.
I can’t sleep during the day. I can’t sleep after having a few drinks. I can’t sleep on a train, bus or plane. I don’t know what it’s like to sleep through an alarm clock as i’m usually awake long before it ever goes off. I’ve never experienced a lazy Sunday lie-in. I can’t simply replace the hours of a late night out or being up with a child because if I don’t get those hours in the middle of the night then I know they’ll be gone forever.
My sleep debt’s as big as an average mortgage for an overpriced Sydney apartment. I’ll be working it off for the next 35 years.
I don’t brag about the lack of sleep I get. I’ll intentionally schedule sending emails I write in the middle of the night until the morning because I’m embarrassed by the fact others will wonder why I’ve logged on at strange times. If I have a good night’s sleep I can’t stop talking about it.
I don’t avoid sleep in order to intentionally get stuff done. I get stuff done to avoid the fact I can’t sleep.
Sleep should be valued more than it currently is, and it’d be nice to one day see how much we get as something to all brag about and end the superhero status associated with those who believe they can survive on four hours a night.
But we should also acknowledge the troubled relationship some people have with getting to sleep as much as we do the need for us to find more time to experience it. It’s not as easy as being told to, ‘Get more sleep’.
It’s a problem that’s affecting more women than men, according to a 2015 Roy Morgan poll, with 16% of women reporting a period of insomnia in the previous 12 months, compared with 8% of men. Such rates of insomnia are a bit of a cruel twist on the fact many women are already time-poor and overwhelmed, and simply can’t afford to not be sleeping, when they need to be sleeping.
Knowing I’m not the only woman who struggles with sleep and in keeping with Huffington’s theme that it’s actually a key to ‘success’, I’ve spent considerable time learning and experimenting with different methods to aid sleep, some that may or may not have helped. I don’t know. Life changes. There are months of sleep. And there are months of very little sleep. Just when you think you have it sorted, insomnia creeps up again, often when you least expect it.
On Women’s Agenda, we’re continuing to focus more on the importance of sleep in general. We could all use more tips for sleep — including advice on finding time for sleep and on actually getting to sleep. Sleep is at the core of women’s health and fundamental for managing the ‘daily juggle’ of work, motherhood and/or whatever else you have on.
There are tips and fact sheets available at the Insomnia Health Foundation, and their ‘World Sleep Day’ campaign suggests we find a cool, quiet and calm environment (not easily done if you have a newborn, or kids, or even a couple of flatmates of noisy neighbours). They also advise us to give time for our bodies to calm down and prepare for sleep, including away from phones, televisions and other screens.
We’d also love to hear about your own sleeping issues and what you’d like to see us specifically have experts address. Because the best way to get more sleep is to actually get to sleep, without staring at the ceiling for hours. Let us know if you have anything to share here.