Sleep Challenge 2010: Women, It's Time to Sleep Our Way to the Top. Literally.
As women, we make a lot of New Year's resolutions -- "lose 10 pounds" and "finally write that novel" and "lose 10 pounds -- seriously." But this year, the two of us (that's HuffPost's Arianna Huffington and Glamour's Cindi Leive) are suggesting you make a New Year's resolution that could improve the status of all women in this country, starting with you. No, we're not talking about universal child care or even banning Tiger Woods from ever texting again. If you ask us, the next feminist issue is sleep. And in order for women to get ahead in this country, we're all going to have to lie down and take a nap.
Stay with us here for a minute. 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. Cindi admits that between her work, her two young children and her wicked TV addiction, she averages only five and a bit; as for Arianna, she had a rude (and painful) awakening two years ago when she passed out from exhaustion, broke her cheekbone and got five stitches over her eye. Ever since then, she's been working on bringing more balance, and more sleep, into her life with varying degrees of success.
"Women are significantly more sleep-deprived than men," confirms Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. "They have so many commitments, and sleep starts to get low on the totem pole. They may know that sleep should be a priority, but then, you know, they've just got to get that last thing done. And that's when it starts to get bad."
Does it ever! You probably already know about the health consequences of sleep deprivation, how cheating your body out of the R&R it needs can make you more prone to illness, stress, traffic accidents and even weight gain. (Dr. Breus swears that sleeping will actually do more to take off weight than exercise! Love that.)
But there's more to it than simple physical problems. Rob yourself of sleep, ladies, and you'll find you never function at your personal best. Work decisions, relationship challenges, any life situation that requires 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. "Everything you do, you'll do better with a good night's sleep," says Dr. Breus. Yet women who constantly push themselves to get by on less never know what that "peak performance" feels like.
A nation of sleepy women is even less capable of greatness. Consider the fact that sleep deprivation is a strategy many cults are fond of: They force prospective members to stay awake for extended periods, up for all hours because doing so physically alters their subjects' decision-making ability and makes them more open to persuasion. Ladies, the choice is ours. Do we want to be empowered women taking charge of our lives -- or do we want to be cult members, dragging ourselves around like zombies and going along with everyone else's crummy ideas?
We're saying no to the zombie side of things and, as of January 4, resolving to get a full night's sleep every night for a month. Cindi's going for seven and a half hours (that's Dr. Breus' recommended minimum, since it allows for a healthy round of five 90-minute sleep cycles); Arianna's choosing eight (arrived through trial and error as the number of hours it takes for her to be at her most creative and effective and have the most fun while being creative and effective).
Getting a good night's sleep, of course, is easier said than done. You have to tune out a host of temptations, from Letterman to the PTA to your e-mail inbox -- and most of all, to ignore the workaholic wisdom that says you're lazy for not living up to the example set by Madonna, Martha Stewart and other notorious self-professed never-sleepers. Of course, the truth is the opposite: You'll be much more likely to be a professional powerhouse if you're not asleep at the wheel. (Even Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep, later admitted, "Every important mistake I've made in my life, I've made because I was too tired." Huh! ) The problem is that women often feel that they still don't "belong" in the boys-club atmosphere that still dominates many workplaces. So they often attempt to compensate by working harder and longer than the next guy. Hard work helps women fit in and gain a measure of security. And because it works, they begin to do more and more and more of it until they can't stop. But it's a Pyrrhic victory: The workaholism leads to lack of sleep, which in turn leads to never being able to do your best. In fact, many women do this on purpose, fueled by the mistaken idea that getting enough sleep means you must be lazy or less than passionate about your work and your life.
In fact, we may be surprised to find out that if we sleep more, we become more powerful. After all, we've already broken glass ceilings in Congress, space travel, sports, business and the media -- just imagine what we can do when we're fully awake.
Inspired? Then join our one-month sleep challenge. We'll be blogging on glamour.com and the Huffington Post every Monday and Thursday about how our quest for more sleep is going. You'll get tips from health experts like Dr. Michael Breus and answers to some of your own personal questions about how to work more sleep into your life. But most of all, you'll have a New Year's resolution that's fun and fulfilling to stick to -- and a built-in answer to anyone who says, "You're going to sleep now?" Sure you are -- Glamour and the Huffington Post told you to! G'night, ladies. Sweet dreams.