Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wake up

Sleep Challenge - Glamour

Sleep Challenge - Huffington Post

Cindi Lieve of Glamour magazine and Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post have this week launched the Sleep Challenge. They're saying that as women are far more sleep-deprived than men, that sleep has become a 'feminist issue' and needs dealing with via an en masse New Year's Resolution for all women to sleep a full eight hours a day. Reading their introductory pieces to this idea, I was struck firstly by how this reaction from two powerful women has come out of the build up over the last six months or so of articles about sleep deprivation which I had noted and wondered about, and secondly how the language they use to describe the effect of sleep deprivation on individual women, and then consequently on women as a group, is very similar to the sort of thing I have been saying here about the impact of the birth control pill. See, for example, the following statements:

"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?"

"Women have achieved so much already. Think what we can do if we're not tired!"

The issue is couched as such: our culture of productivity and competition in the workplace has eroded our natural sleep cycles - which should be, according to the experts, between seven and eight hours in length a day. Women feel the need to prove themselves more so than men, and therefore work longer hours, work at home and take on more tasks. They also often have to take care of the larger part of the domestic duties - cleaning the house, as well as putting in the most effort with their children. Essentially in order to take on the challenge of their acceptance by men, the potential for equal status and success, women have sacrificed their sleep cycles. All sounding rather familiar right?

I have actually previously made comparisons between the natural ovulation cycle and the sleep cycle. The authors of 'The Pill: Are You Sure It's For You?' have spoken to me about, and written about, the growing interest in maintaining the healthy sleep cycle against the demands of life and society and how this connects to the also growing interest in maintaining the healthy ovulation cycle and ditching hormonal contraceptives. Any interest in how women's bodies work and how the disruption of these workings could cause problems will be helpful in opening up discussion about the Pill. Sleep is, of course, a less contentious issue in some ways. But the way this Sleep Challenge is being addressed is interesting - it is argued that the more women sleep the more they can achieve within the hours they are awake, and the better off we all be for it, as then we could contribute more, be more inventive and creative and progress society as a whole.

Without being totally direct, these two women are advocating some drastic shifts in how our lives are structured - changes not only in how jobs and work patterns are organised, but also how family and home life is shared. Really, for eight hours a night to be possible, there needs to be a better balance of responsibilities between men and women so that women are not doing their job and then coming home to take up the entirety of their second job, looking after the house and the children. If women are taking themselves off to bed, regardless of their left-over duties, the protests of their husbands and children or the needs of their job, it is a kind of pacifist protest. There's something in there similar to how upper class Victorian women when faced with their social duties, chores and other boring entertainments would become ill and need bed rest for months, years even. Barbara Ehrenreich, amongst others, has spoken of the bed rest movement of that era as not only symptomatic of women's oppression, but also an act of rebellion against the structure and substance of their lives.

Of course, the Sleep Challenge is only going to speak to women who, like the editors of these publications, are generally well-off, have job security and have supportive husbands, relatives - or perhaps no children at all and a cleaner who comes in twice a week. Women who are single mothers working up to three jobs - I'm certainly not creating this character for dramatic effect as I see and speak with such women every day - are not depriving themselves of sleep by staying up speaking with the features editor about next month's fashion shoot focusing on transparents, or checking their Blackberries for the latest news. They are up working at an all-night diner, or cleaning offices first thing in the morning, or having worked for twelve hours that day trying to have a little social life and fun by meeting their friends. I'm not saying that editors of magazines shouldn't be getting sleep, or that what they are doing when they are not sleeping at night is unimportant, or that they shouldn't indeed be encouraging women to sleep more, if possible. They do make reference to a wider change that is needed here, to the suffering of women as a whole under the current social conditions. And I know this is America where even if you are a single mother working three jobs you are supposed to be constantly 'aspiring' (rather than just plain hoping) to one day have a cleaner and a nanny and a nice editing job. I am absolutely glad this issue is being discussed, as I say, it can only help with my own birth control pill challenge, I just have to bring this stuff up because, well, they aren't.

Also, we're not just talking single mothers with three jobs, we are in the middle of a recession here in which three jobs are being made one and palmed off on one young woman after another for little pay in order to save the company money. If you want to keep your job, there's a good chance you do need to stay late, come in early and work at home, as if you don't there'll always be someone else who will instead. I have worked in media jobs, and media jobs alone, and I have always felt the pressure to do above and beyond my daily eight hours as I am well aware of the long line of people willing to take my place for less money. And when I've worked for free, that's when I have particularly felt the pressure to stay on and work as hard as physically possible to please - in one position under the same roof as Glamour magazine I lost two stone doing just that. I am currently fitting in writing this blog around a tight schedule of minimum wage work, and in fact I should really be at that minimum wage job right now because I do need the money, but am bargaining for some time to achieve something more significant to me.

I am intrigued by the health problems set out as caused by sleep deprivation and started doing some research into the background of these problems, as in what was happening in the body when it isn't getting enough rest that makes you sick. I discovered there's a whole lot going on to do with hormone production disruption. An article here discusses the effect on hormones and metabolism, which are two of the main areas of impact of the birth control pill also:

This is a whole other medical, scientific kettle of fish, but this article at least sums up the connections, and shows that when bells started ringing with this Sleep Challenge, they were right to - there are many comparisons to the effect the Pill has on our bodies. I guess I don't need to wade into the science to realise the body has cycles that keep everything working at its optimum level and when these are disrupted continuously over long periods of time the body will suffer. I love to see how every third point made in the Sleep Challenge blogs is about how getting more sleep can make you more attractive. As in, you eat less junk, you will lose more weight, you will look better. They do mention interior health benefits, but the impact of these interior health benefits on your skin and body seems to be more discussed than anything. I don't mean to be harsh here, it's just funny to see that, and as someone who reads women's magazines, I get why they're doing that and I kind of buy it, too.

It's been four months since I came off the Pill now, and I honestly feel great. I don't necessarily look that hot though, as I have mentioned before it feels a little like being a teenager again with bad skin and hair and at this point I am wondering if it will settle down sometime soon. I don't want to eat as much however, and my hypoglaecemic-like blood sugar drops have evened out helping me to eat healthier. Seeing as I have not been de-toxing myself in a way that would be recommended when coming off a drug after ten years - I'm still drinking alcohol, eating junk and not exercising enough - I am pleased to see how I have progressed. And I think by changing very little in my life, apart from stopping the Pill, I have been able to see how the Pill was really, truly effecting me. If I feel better in ways now, I can be pretty certain it is because I am not on the Pill.

I have argued here that the Pill impairs women's judgement, decision-making, concentration, creativity, energy and so on, just as Arianna argues about sleep deprivation. I have also explained my thoughts on how the Pill being taken by many women, for decades could be keeping us down - letting us go along with other people's 'crummy ideas' because we are too weakened by it's insidious effect on our bodies to have the strength to do anything else. I have suggested that the Pill was taken on enthusiastically as a sacrifice that would allow us to be fully indoctrinated into the man's workplace under the man-made rules. Also, I've written about how suppressing our ovulation cycles could be holding us back, that the Pill is a form of oppression we have gleefully accepted in a cruel bargain. So, yes, lots of correlations here.

Arianna doesn't go as far as having a sleep deprivation conspiracy, or suggesting that the problem is the result of anything other than the pressure on women to out-work men and prove themselves and their equal status. Basically, she doesn't say, as I might have been inclined to, that a sleep deprived people are far easier to govern than a wide-awake people, and far easier to manipulate, scare and goad. Forget about what they do in cults and for torture techniques, sleep deprivation could be seen as a useful tool for keeping us all in check in our day to day lives. An awake woman might be more creative, productive, inventive and critical, but is that what the economy really needs? In one way yes, in a ton of other ways, absolutely not.

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