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Sleep Challenge 2010: The 5 Things Every Woman Should Know About Sleep

This is it, the last post of Sleep Challenge 2010, my joint project with comrade-in-PJs Arianna Huffington to urge American women to stop walking around sleep-deprived and be good to themselves for once. So, what have I learned, other than that the world won't fall apart if I don't watch Letterman?
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This is it, the last post of Sleep Challenge 2010, my joint project with comrade-in-PJs Arianna Huffington to urge American women to stop walking around sleep-deprived and be good to themselves for once. So, what have I learned, other than that the world won’t fall apart if I don’t watch Letterman? Lots of things—and I think every woman should know them too. Some key bits of wisdom from my 31 good nights of sleep:

  • First of all, it’s not just you: Most women are sleep-deprived. As soon as we announced the Sleep Challenge, women I barely knew started bee-lining across crowded rooms to tell me how zonked they were, and to share their sometimes-hilarious sleep-deprivation stories. Among the places and HuffPo commenters have fallen asleep: “during a professional makeup application”; “movies, lectures, bars, dinners, yoga classes - you name it”; “on the elliptical at the gym”; and, horrifyingly, “on the back of a moped in Laos.” (She was OK, phew.) The prize for most-highbrow confession goes to the writer Jane Smiley, who admitted that “I once dozed off on stage at a Kafka conference sitting next to Werner Herzog.” And the scariest story came from a female medical resident, who dozed off in the OR (not while holding a scalpel): “Picture this, people,” she posted on HuffPost. “I was standing up, decked out in sterile OR attire, doing the embarrassing head bob thing. I mean, who falls asleep during surgery?”
  • Second, all those studies about how you’re a better/smarter/healthier person when you sleep more? They’re right. “I lost 10 pounds and years off my face by getting some sleep for the past three weeks....I did not change my diet, I just got some sleep,” posted one Sleep Challenger. Not so shabby! I found the same to be true: Not only did I lose three pounds without trying, I also felt more energetic, less stressed and, well, nicer. Turns out I don’t snap at my kids half as much on 7.5 hours of sleep as I did on five. And incidentally, everyone in my family caught the Great Cold of January 2010, and I didn’t. I’d read all the studies before, but this month convinced me: Sleeping is the laziest, easiest thing you can do for your health.
  • But there’s no use saying “I’m going to get more sleep” if you don’t actually set a bedtime for yourself. For years I’ve walked around sleep-deprived, periodically vowing to reform my late-night/early-morning ways and do better. But as I’ve admitted, I never actually set a bedtime. This month, I counted backwards seven-and-a-half hours from the time I had to get up, set a bedtime and, imagine this, actually stuck to it. That meant doing less of lots of things: less cooking, less cleaning, less watching-of-late-night-TV, less nights out. And yes, even, occasionally, less time with my kids. Before you hate me for being a bad mother, listen: For years I’ve gotten up at the crack of dawn so I can get in a run or a trip to the gym and be home by the time my kids wake up. This month, I let myself sleep a half-hour later—which meant that yes, sometimes my children were up and being fed breakfast (by my perfectly capable, more than willing husband) by the time I got back. Turns out, that works. Nice. And speaking of which...
  • If you want to get enough sleep, it helps to marry the right person. Look, as Lisa Belkin pointed out in the New York Times at the beginning of the Sleep Challenge, working women—especially working moms—aren’t just sleep-deprived because they stay up too late frittering away their time with Jimmy Kimmel. They’re sleep-deprived because, as she writes, “ the expectation is that mom will work a second shift, filling her evening with homework checking and lunch fixing and bedtime storytelling and clutter picking-upping and laundry sorting. Then, after that, so many of us get back to the pile of work we brought home from the office — an office we left early in order to be home for dinner.” And then it’s midnight, and then you’re screwed—unless you have a partner who’s willing and able to do that second shift as often as you (and not with eyes a-rolling, either). Marry the guy who says he accepts your career but who then promptly puts his feet up on the coffee table while you run around like a crazy person, and you will be tired.
  • One more thing: If you need an excuse to go to bed, here you go. When we started this challenge, many commenters thanked us for giving them a justification to turn in early. If feeling your best isn’t enough of an excuse, consider the example of a big-deal TV reporter/mother of young kids I know. She covers wars, natural disasters, genocide...and yet she almost always gets a full night’s sleep. “I try to think of myself like an athlete,” she told me. “If I don’t take good care of myself, I’m no good to my viewers or my family.” Shouldn’t we all have that attitude? After all, like the song says, when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
  • Good night, ladies! Hope the Sleep Challenge was as much fun for you as it was for me and Arianna. Tell me, I’m dying to know: Do you feel any different than you did a month ago?