Sleep: the next big feminist issue?

Thursday, 11 February 2010
















If you had to come up with a few examples of what you feel are today’s most important feminist issues, I’m betting that ‘sleep deprivation’ wouldn’t be one of them.

But last month, Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and US Glamour’s Cindi Leive resolved to get a full night’s sleep every day – all in the name of feminism.

As they pointed out in the introductory post to their Sleep Challenge 2010, lack of sleep leaves you prone to stress and illness, impairs your judgement and leaves you unable to function at your ‘peak performance’.

“Work decisions, relationship challenges, any life situation that requires that 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.”

Citing a study which claims that American women are getting an hour and half less sleep a night than they should, Huffington and Leive claimed that by making sure we’re well-rested, we’ll be better-prepared to conquer the challenges and adversity that we face as women.

Of course there are myriad reasons why women are suffering from lack of sleep – working long hours or dealing with work-related stress, personal issues and relationship problems, caring for children, running a household. Sometimes fitting everything we have to do into a mere 24 hours seems like a bit of a stretch.

I know all too well that even when life isn’t particularly hectic, it’s still so easy for us to lose out on sleep. We just have to write that blog post, read another chapter of that book, watch that television show and before we know it, we're more tired than ever.

Over the course of the month, Huffington and Leive’s challenge often focused on women in the business world. They pointed out that a consequence of women breaking in to the ‘boys’ club’ atmosphere of many workplaces is the pressure to work harder and longer to prove that they’re great at their job, or that they’re the most dedicated. This in turn leads to lack of sleep, causing stress and the inability to work to full potential.

This is a very valid point. Today’s business culture often revolves around being seen to put in the longest hours, doing the most work – at the expense of everything else in life. We’ve all seen friends and colleagues exhausted as the strain of simply doing too much catches up with them.

But in The Times on Saturday, Naomi Wolf addressed the issue from a slightly different angle. While agreeing with Huffington and Leive, she pointed out that for them – and most other women in their successful, privileged position – losing out on sleep is often down to ‘self-imposed perfection’ – a sort of ‘hyperperformance’:

“They have been raised in a culture that tells us that if we have too much of a good thing, there has to be a cost. Hence the impulse to show we are good girls, we are hard working, we truly deserve this good fortune with our over-performance.”

Wolf talks of hours spent at the gym, the salon, the local bake sale, getting involved at the children’s school – all in the name of maintaining an image of success. She urges us all to focus on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’, concluding:

“Being willing to be a little less than you can be is a form of revolution.”

It’s a well-known fact that despite gains made by women in the workplace and in society over the last 50 years, there is more pressure on us than ever before to be ‘perfect’ in every way – in our jobs, our appearance, as girlfriends, wives and mothers. It often seems like we can’t win.

In light of this it probably is time that we tried to set aside more time for sleep, chilling out and doing anything but trying to live up to ridiculous expectations. In the long run, we’ll probably feel a lot better.

This piece was originally featured at BitchBuzz. Image via Alyssa L Miller's Flickr.

 

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