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  • Writer's pictureAmy Clark

Are We Sleeping Less Today Than Women Before Us?

We all know that catching good zzz's seems to be so difficult for millions of women these days. Either we lie awake at night with our heads full of thoughts and find we can't get to sleep or we easily fall asleep but pop awake in the middle of the night thinking it's already morning. Once we're up, all bets are off in falling back into a restful slumber and the vicious cycle continues.

While pondering the myriad of suggestions on how to get a good night's sleep, an article in the January 7th issue of the New York Times entitled Gen X Women: More Opportunities, Less Satisfaction by Curtis Sittenfeld caught my eye. The article was reviewing a new book entitled Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun. Though I haven't yet read the book, the review asserts it's with good reason Gen X women are lying in bed with their minds racing and not sleeping. While I'm interested in how the sleep conundrum relates to all women, I had to read on!

Compared with earlier generations, those of us born between 1965 and 1980 earn less, are in greater debt, are more likely to have children with intellectual disabilities or developmental delays and are expected to be constantly available to both our kids and our jobs. If we're single, heterosexual and well educated, we face a "man deficit"; if we're married, we're more frustrated by our spouses. As if that's not enough, there's social media to really make us feel physically and existentially inadequate.

This was thought provoking and juicy so I decided to put this question to the ladies in our January Circles:

Are we sleeping less today than women before us or is it simply a function of biology and where we are in our lives?

While none of the women had yet read the book and hadn't had the benefit of pouring over its many documented statistics, the general consensus was yes, in fact, our sleep issues are worse today. Here are some of their thoughts:

* As history will attest, women have always faced challenges, strife and stress by virtue of their sex. But more responsibilities--raising kids and having jobs in the professional workplace---means our juggling skills are really being put to the test! More women than ever before are now climbing the ladder in the workforce. While a wonderful statistic, taking on more responsibility doesn't necessarily translate into us being happier and therefore more relaxed. For many of us we feel more dissatisfied because we're stretched too thin and don't feel like we're able to do our very best at any of our jobs. Add this to the facts about inequality between men and women in the workplace and it's definitely a recipe for more stress and less sleep!

* According to the article, It may be that historically women have endured the same numbers of stressors as today--

The 70's and 80's was a rough time to be a kid. The economy was sinking, crime was spiking, nuclear war was plausible, divorce rates were soaring and helicopter parenting was anomalous. Many of us knew about AIDS long before we had sex, and we watched the Challenger explode on live TV.

But today we all live under the power of social media, a completely new and different kind of stress. It breeds judgements, insecurities, distrust, sensory overload as well as electromagnetic radiation, which affects our brains. Scientific studies link the "blue lights" emitted from cell phones, tablets, computers etc... to the disruption to our circadian rhythms and the natural sleep process.

* Hormonal issues like peri and menopause are also scientifically known to affect our sleep patterns. Today our hormones are adversely affected by new environmental toxins, which can actually exacerbate our symptoms.

* The whole atmosphere of "fake news" -- a phenomenon that has captured our attention more than ever before, has become a powerful new stressor creating an underbelly of unease. For many, It breeds worry about our overall national and global safety and turns our focus to the breakdown of peoples' moral compasses --all of which make it more difficult to relax, fall and stay asleep each night.

* It has been documented that today our children are more stressed, anxious, and depressed than ever before. This statistic certainly contributes to sleep issues for parents, many of whom stay awake at night trying to figure out how to help their children.

* It might be a huge generalization, but women's maternal instincts will always work against us as long as we love and care for others, no matter what point in history. Poor sleep is often the outcome.

It will be fascinating to read the book and see how the author makes the argument that sleep is more elusive than ever, even though it's focused on the Gen Xers. The article alludes to both "convincing and sobering" economic and labor statistics that support author Calhoun's premise.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Do you agree we have a "lack of sleep" epidemic affecting women more than ever today? Do you believe women are more affected than men--is sleep deprivation gender specific? If so, why? With the gender roles in society blurring and changing, might the search for a great night's sleep become an epidemic for all?

We'd love to hear from you. Please join the conversation below!

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