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Why Do Women Struggle with Sleep? Exploring the Link Between Gender and Rest.

Menstruation, pregnancy, breast-feeding, raising kids, perimenopause and menopause all sabotage our sleep by affecting our mood, body temperature, weight, pain and routines. Pain conditions like migraines, tension headaches, arthritis, and heartburn are conditions all more common among women too. Women are also more likely than men to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and to experience more daytime sleepiness. Female biology isn’t the only reason for us catching less Z’s than men either, gender roles are also to blame.  

The AASM Sleep Prioritization Survey for Covid-19 and the Impact on Sleep showed that women’s sleep has been more negatively impacted during the Covid 19 pandemic than men, with higher rates of insomnia as well. Many women have had to take on the increased workload that has come with the pandemic  because a large portion of the labor has increased at home. We now have the added demands of managing school and daycare closures, worrying about family members being isolated or becoming ill, and having to navigate working from home while caring for our families at the same time and in the same space. We have had to add more hats to our already impressive collection we wear as women. We’ve had to become nurses, home school teachers, chefs, maids, chauffeurs, entertainers, and that's on top of the demands we have professionally. All of these growing personal and professional demands leave us with less time to care for ourselves and prioritize the sleep we need to be successful at home and work. Sleep is fundamental to everyone’s good physical and mental health, but women are disproportionately impacted by persistent sleep problems, and in turn, it’s taking a toll on our health, wellbeing, and even our careers.

While we all attempt to be the "Wonder Woman" of our lives and keep our earning potential growing, sleep can actually be our super power or our kryptonite when it comes to thriving in our jobs. Research shows poor sleep has a greater impact on women’s ability to do our work carefully, handle our workload, do our jobs well and work quickly when compared to men. Well-rested women in the workforce, however,  were found to be more productive and achieved more than men after a good night’s sleep. The study also showed that almost half of women approach the next work day with a more positive mindset after a solid slumber when compared to men. This got me thinking that maybe there’s potential to close the gender gap in the boardroom by closing the gender gap in the bedroom.

As women, we need to unapologetically prioritize our sleep so we can live our best lives and achieve our career goals without the consequences of burnout and exhaustion. We can’t change the facts of how biology affects our sleep, but we can prioritize sleep and make it a non-negotiable requirement for self-care. Regularly practicing healthy sleep habits safeguards us against the conditions which wreak havoc on our sleep, and prevents adding to a pre-existing sleep debt when sleep loss is unavoidable. 

How do we do this? How do we prioritize sleep when we are already doing everything else?

We need to stop believing the myth that we don’t have time to sleep and recognize that sleep gives us the ability to be the best version of ourselves at work and at home. Sleep makes it possible to achieve more with less time, and to stay sane while doing it. We need to stop stealing from our sleep time for less important activities like Netflix or social media and we need to stop robbing ourselves of sleep to burn the midnight oil when we’ve prioritized everyone else’s needs over our own. We need to make sleep a top priority in our lives, and give ourselves the opportunity to recharge every night, so we can be the swiss army knives life demands us to be every day.

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