Is Lack of Sleep A Women's Health Crisis?

"Women's lack of sleep has become a societal crisis bordering on a national health epidemic."
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Benjamin Franklin knew a lot about how to live a great life. He practiced what he preached and he preached some smart ideas, including, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." If Franklin were around today, he'd say, "Women, too!"

So many of us women are racing around, looking hither and yon for the "secrets of success," when the truth is - there aren't any secrets! One need only observe and learn from successful, balanced, healthy, happy women to find out how they got that way.

Success and happiness begin with the basics - and the first basic is self-care. I'm not talking about frou-frou soaps, expensive massages, fancy cashmere robes, luxury cruises, or expensive spas. Superb self-care is as simple as taking a nap, soaking in a relaxing bath, getting enough sleep, eating an apple instead of a muffin, saying "no thanks" when you're overcommitted, and going to bed just a little earlier.

"Many women are starved for sleep," wrote Janice Billingsley in HealthDayNews in 2003. "Start with the stresses of work and family. Add household responsibilities and perhaps worry about an elderly parent. Than factor in the hormonal changes that come with being female, and it should come as no surprise many women are shortchanged on sleep."

Dr. Suzanne Griffin, a Georgetown University psychiatrist specializing in sleep disorders says that insufficient sleep "leads to poor concentration, irritability and fatigue, which can mimic symptoms of other health problems." (quoted in "Many Woman Are Starved for Sleep," by Janice Billingsley, HealthDayNews, Oct. 10, 2003) Some women seek medical help, thinking they have attention-deficit disorder or depression - when the real problem is not enough sleep.

"Everyone expects woman to be caregivers, and this is making them lose precious sleep," says Dr. Joyce Walsleben, former director of the New York University School of Medicine Sleep Disorders Center. "Women's lack of sleep has become a societal crisis bordering on a national health epidemic." (quoted in "Sleep Deprivation Threatens Women's Health" by Molly M. Ginty, for Women's eNews, March 28, 2005)

In other words, the six and a half hours sleep that most women get per night is not enough. We need the eight hours that doctors recommend for maximum health benefit. It's not just "beauty sleep" we're talking about here - it's sanity sleep!

Try an experiment this week: Look for small, simple things you can change in your daily routine to enhance your self-care. Sleep is a great place to start.

It sounds easy, but going to bed earlier may be harder than you anticipate. We are, after all, creatures of habit. If you're a TV fan, you have your favorite shows. It can be hard to turn them off early, or skip them entirely. Perhaps your evening activity is reading and you're reluctant to put down your good book (or trashy novel). Or maybe the evening is when you get to your domestic chores - laundry, cleaning, helping kids with homework, going to the grocery story or drugstore. If you're a working mom, you essentially have two full-time jobs, making it well nigh impossible for you to go to bed earlier. Late night may be the only time you have to yourself, a little peace and quiet "me time."

But before you rule it out, give it a try - that's all I'm suggesting. You're not making a permanent commitment - just think of it as an experiment. If you like the results you get from making this change, keep doing it. If it doesn't work for you, go back to your normal bedtime.

*This is an excerpt from "Why Don't I Do the Things I Know Are Good for Me? Taking Small Steps toward Improving the Big Picture" (Berkley; 2009)