Sleep Challenge 2010: OK, Ladies, It's Time to Make a To- Don't List

2010-01-07-Cindi250.jpgTwo weeks into the Sleep Challenge Arianna Huffington and I are doing, I’ve heard from hundreds of you here and on about how you’re hitting the hay just a little bit earlier—some of you for the first time in years. I’m thrilled! So here’s a question for all of you: What are you doing less of to make more time for sleep?

That’s the question money guru Suze Orman asked me last week when I ran into her in the green room at CNN. One reason women don’t get enough sleep, she pointed out, is that they’re overcommitted—not just to work and family, but to volunteering, organizing, thank-you-note-writing and a million other little obligations that, left unchecked, keep them up till all hours when they should be in bed. “Women only know how to do more!” she said. “They don’t know how to do less.”

But doing less is the trick we all need to master, she says—otherwise all the best-laid early-bedtime plans in the world won’t help us. “Say no out of love for yourself,” Orman insists, “versus yes out of fear of what other people will think about you.”

She’s right, of course. Learning to say a simple, dignified “no” is a crucial life skill every woman should master, but boy is it hard. You start thinking: Well, do I really have a good reason not to organize Jenny’s bridal shower? Am I honestly too busy to look over my neighbor’s niece’s resume and give her some job-hunting pointers? Shouldn’t I finally put together that photo album? (Answers: You do; you are; don’t bother, because to quote George Clooney in Up in the Air, “Photos are for people who can’t remember. Drink some gingko and let the photos burn.”)

Now, I count myself lucky in the saying-no department: I learned how to do it early on in my career as a sheer survival strategy, and I gained no-saying confidence when I realized that I had been smart enough to marry a man who frequently said yes (even to shower-throwing and album-making), which I figure gives me some credit to glide on. But still, you can’t get seven-and-a-half hours of sleep a night without trimming some things off the list—either obligations of the sort Orman’s talking about or fun stuff. In my life, I consider work and family the two non-negotiables: They’re my religion, the two things I’ll pay attention to above all. But everything else is on the table, and since starting the Sleep Challenge, here’s some of what I’ve given up:

  • Cooking on weeknights. (Not that I ever did that much of it—when my daughter was 18 months old, she famously ran down the length of our apartment, holding a takeout menu and screaming “Dinner! Dinner!”)

  • Doing favors for people who aren’t close friends or trusted colleagues. I’m sorry. I’d like to. But: no.

  • Throwing parties that require more than a bottle opener and money for the pizza guy.

  • Watching TV in real time. Why on earth those boys at NBC had their knickers in such a twist over whether the Tonight Show should start at 11:35pm or 12:05am is beyond me. Ten minutes on TiVo the next night and you’re done.

  • The entire bottom third of my to-do list. Nothing really important ever ends down that far anyway.
  • So, fellow Sleep Challengers, what would you give up to get a full night’s sleep? Do you agree with Orman that as women, we’re more over-committed than men? And what wouldn’t you give up, no matter how well-rested you would be otherwise?

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