Sleep is a feminist issue


According to Kate Harding in Salon, sleep is the next big feminist issue.

From the reading I’ve done about women and sleep, I can see why. If you’re a woman you need more sleep than a man of the same age and chances are you’re getting less (that’s even more true if you share a bed with one of them) and chances are, you’re not happy about it.

Harding writes, “Americans are increasingly sleep-deprived, and the sleepiest people are, you guessed it, women. Single working women and working moms with young kids are especially drowsy: They tend to clock in an hour and a half shy of the roughly 7.5-hour minimum the human body needs to function happily and healthfully.” The negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation are well-documented, but that doesn’t inspire enough people to prioritize rest, and women often end up in a vicious cycle of sacrificing sleep in order to do extra work and make sure their domestic duties are fulfilled, causing all of the above to suffer.”

Read the rest of this sad story here

Women’s sleep deprivation is making the news and so too is our foul temper about it.

According to an article in the Telegraph women wake up grumpier than men because they need more sleep.

(Not me. I’m a cheerful morning person but I’m also a big fan of sleep. I will say I have two challenges, teenagers who stay up late and hate to get up in the morning and a partner who takes the very early train to the big city several days a week. Oh also, dogs.)

“Researchers studied the sleeping habits of 210 people and found that women who didn’t get enough sleep were ‘more hostile and angry’ in the mornings compared to men who got the same amount of time in bed.In a report out earlier this month, scientists at Duke University in North Carolina, USA, said that differences in hormones meant women needed more sleep than men.”

I’ve blogged before about equality in the home and women’s time for physical activity and it seems like we might be able to tell the same story about sleep. Indeed there are important connections between sleep and fitness which I’ve blogged about here.

A good part of the story is hormonal. That’s the best explanation both of why women need more sleep and why sleep can elude us.

“If you sleep beside a male partner, chances are good that you’ve marvelled at his ability to konk out as soon as his head hits the pillow while you lie awake watching the minutes blink by on your clock radio. You’re not alone in this particular battle of the sexes—a recent Stats Can study of Canadians’ sleep habits showed that 35 percent of women polled reported difficulty falling and staying asleep, compared to only 25 percent of men. Interestingly, the study also showed that women tend to sleep about an average of 11 minutes longer each night than their male counterparts do. Though these results may seem just as mind-boggling as your man’s ability to drift off during horror flicks, Helen Driver, a Kingston, Ont.-based sleep researcher and president of the Canadian Sleep Society, says the reason for these findings is twofold. “Women may need a little more sleep than men do,” she explains, “and we also experience more sleep problems, such as insomnia.””

Read the rest, Why men sleep better than women.

So part of the story is the standard division of labour in homes with opposite sex couples in which women do more, and men less. That’s how this blog post began. Part of the story is hormonal, see above. But another piece of the puzzle is that women may fare worse in the sleep department when we bunk down for the night with male partners.

“Studies have also found that in opposite-sex couples who share a bed, men are more likely to disturb their mates. That’s possibly because women’s circadian rhythm is about six minutes shorter than men’s. That means women are generally wired to fall asleep and wake up earlier than men, and ladies who try to go to bed at the same time as their male partners might be messing with their biological clocks.” Read the rest, All the sleepy ladies

And finally on the sleep front, our collective obsession with how much we’re getting versus how much we want and how much we need prompted Salon to ask Is sleep the new sex?


15 thoughts on “Sleep is a feminist issue

  1. While I’m not saying that sleep isn’t important, or that it’s not an issue for feminism, anyone calling it “the next big” issue for feminism has their priorities completely messed up. This is the height of what so many people think is wrong with feminism, with its heavy focus on issues for middle class, white, cis women. Life is pretty decent for these women, so why not focus work on issues for women for whom life isn’t so awesome: undereducated, underpaid, “pink collar” workers; women of colour; trans women who can’t even get jobs due to discrimination and harassment.

    If I’m more worried about making it to the next meal, or getting basic health care, getting the extra 30-60min of sleep I could use each night is *very* low on my list of priorities. We have high(ish) ranking Republicans calling for trans women to be rounded up into camps…and feminists are focused on SLEEP?!

    1. Agree it’s not the most important issue, neither is fitness after all, and that’s the topic of this blog. But I do think lack of sleep is connected to important health issues for women and that there are real connections between privilege and sleep. Who sleeps and who doesn’t is a class issue, that’s for sure. I was very aware of that as an undergrad student working full time and going to school full time. See http://globalsociology.com/2010/08/23/sleep-as-social-privilege/. But I agree it’s not the most important issue for feminism. Redressing the underlying inequalities matters more.

  2. While I agree with Rachel that the article linked does not address the intersectional aspects of sleep-as-a-feminist-issue, I’d be willing to bet that sleep issues (as tied as they are to stress, mental health, class, privilege, etc.) are huge issues for intersectional feminism as well (even if this article Sam linked doesn’t address all these aspects). I also agree with Sam that issues like sleep and fitness need feminist analysis even when there are more serious injustices/issues for feminism to address. As an intersectional feminist I don’t want to use appeals to relative privation to negate other valid areas of feminist analysis.

  3. To be clear, I never said that this doesn’t deserve feminist attention; what really bothers me is when people call these sorts of issues “the next big” or “the next” feminist issue.

  4. Great post. Sleep matters and lots of people all over the world don’t get enough of it, not just skipping a few minutes here or there, but systematically fall short almost every night. And I’m guessing that with an intersectional analysis, it would turn out that privileged white cis women are doing better than most other women on the sleep front, precisely because of their white cis privilege. I feel very fortunate to be able to prioritize sleep.

  5. It would be interesting to see what data there are on sleep time for income, class, etc, along with some other quality-of-life measures. I know that sleep deprivation is associated with obesity through a bunch of nefarious channels– binge eating, mood swings, depression, increased cortisol production (linked to increased inflammation), etc. And of course health disparities strongly affect those in marginalized groups. For these reasons (among others), sleep is a good gateway into discussing serious quality of life/health quality issues as they affect different groups.

    I’m up past my bedtime, so goodnight everyone!

    -catherine w

    1. There is some research on class and sleep and some on race and sleep too. Great paper topic. Justice and sleep deprivation….

  6. Hmm. I never thought of sleep deprivation as a feminist issue.
    I still don’t think it is….for me. You see, my partner has a near lifelong case of narcolepsy. It is extremely rare he can get a full night’s sleep. So he often just feels tired. He was put on prescribed drugs…a mild narcotic but dropped it because didn’t want his body hooked on a drug for life.

    His condition is dangerous enough that he can’t drive beyond 100 km. without feeling exhausted. He needs to rest. That’s why we haven’t had a car over last 20 years.

    So cycling, transit, walking, taxi and renting a car only 1-2 times annually.

  7. And yes, I’ve more sleep deprived for last few years. Sometimes work related stress, other life upsets..ie. death of sister. So every bit of cycling helps me.

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