For those of us (in the Northern Hemisphere) whose jobs change in accordance with the school year, it’s time to get into gear. Classes are starting, school busses are rumbling down the roads, and lesson plans and syllabi are scheduling our lives.
Although I let go of summer with the greatest reluctance, the beginning of fall and the new academic year is always exciting, promising newness and variety and pleasure. It’s like a brand-new box of colored pencils, just for me.
One big downside of the seasonal and work shift is the shift in my sleep schedule. For me, menopausal insomnia always at the ready to obliterate my well-laid morning plans. Lately I’ve had to cancel some morning coffee rides with my friend Pata because I’ve been awake still at 2:30 in the morning. And getting up early anyway means a day in which I can’t concentrate on work tasks with any efficiency. Blech!
To combat it, I do many of the things you’re supposed to do (dark quiet cool room, bedroom just for sleep, try try try not to look at phone in bed, limit caffeine, blah blah blah). I have intermittent success, punctuated by periods of being awake very late and sleeping in late.
I know, this is supposed to be a sleep no-no. We’re supposed to get up at the same time every day, regardless of how much we slept.
Getting up early in the morning has always gotten better press than sleeping late. You know the aphorism by this guy (operative word being “guy”):
Here’s my complaint: some people have different body clocks– we are more active in the evenings, and mostly comatose before noon. I am and have always been one of these people. Yes, for very special occasions (like a 6am bike ride to Niagara Falls with Sam a while back, or a 5am drive to go kayaking in Maine with Janet) I’ll rise early. But this kind of behavior is just not sustainable for me.
And this week the New York Times says maybe it’s okay. Yes– it’s about time.
The article cites Matthew Walker (the author of a new book, “Why We Sleep”), about how sleep patterns vary.
According to Dr. Walker, about 40 percent of the population are morning people, 30 percent are evening people, and the remainder land somewhere in between. “Night owls are not owls by choice,” he writes. “They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hard wiring. It is not their conscious fault, but rather their genetic fate.”
When night owls are forced to rise early, their prefrontal cortex, which controls sophisticated thought processes and logical reasoning, “remains in a disabled, or ‘offline,’ state,” Dr. Walker writes. “Like a cold engine in an early-morning start, it takes a long time before it warms up to operating temperature.”
Yep, that sounds about right.
Okay, so we now see that sleep patterns may be strongly determined and very hard to overrule. We knew this already. So, what makes sleep a feminist issue? Glad you asked.
There’s a great article in Scientific American on “The Hidden Risks of Poor Sleep in Women”. Here are some highlights (well, rather lowlights)
- Menstruation, onset of puberty, pregnancy and menopause all increase risk of sleep loss in women;
- In studies, sleep deprivation results in more severe cognitive losses in women than men;
- The same results have been found in teenaged girls vs. teenaged boys;
- Women with sleep apnea are much less likely to be diagnosed than men.
In short, there are a lot of reasons to suggest that women are strongly affected by sleep loss, and less likely to be diagnosed with some sleep disorders. Add that into the mix with the facts that:
- our societies operate on an early-morning schedule;
- women are very often the persons in households in charge of getting the day going for others;
- many/most women have jobs with work hours they don’t have control over;
- a lot of these jobs either start early in the morning or involve shift work.
And what do we get? A lot of sleep-deprived women.
I’m working on a nice, catchy chant for a sleep protest march. Here’s my first attempt:
Whadda we want?
More control over our sleep!
When do we want it?
I still have some work to do on it…
Tell me, readers– do your sleep patterns change come fall? Do you sleep more? Less? How is your sleep these days? I’d like to hear from you.