Newsweek Magazine's April 24 cover headline grabbed me like a mugger in the park: "Why Women Can't Sleep."
It's an article that obviously was written for me. I'm a woman. I can't sleep. At last, I thought, I have found the answer to the
I snatched the magazine from the rack and paid the cashier. I'd have given her more than the cover price of $4.50 if she had asked
for it — that's how badly I want to know why women — me included — cannot sleep.
What's more, the cover also promised a sidebar titled "Secrets for Youthful Skin." Good heavens, it's a bonanza.
I figured the information it contained must be sound, since the cover also said, "With Harvard Medical School." They don't let just
anybody into Harvard Medical School. I'm pretty sure they only admit people capable of researching difficult health issues, such as
why women can't sleep.
But it wasn't only the headline that got me to plunk down my cash, it was the compelling cover photo that sucked me in. Newsweek
illustrated its feature with a picture of a woman sitting up in bed, holding a fussy baby, while the clock on her night table indicates it
is just after 3 (we presume that's a.m., not p.m.).
The lamp beside her bed illuminates several prescription bottles, one of which is open and has spilled out some medication —
sleeping pills, perhaps? Clearly, she's in a bad way.
In the dim glow we also see her bedmate: a sleeping clod of a man, drifting on the dreamy waves of deep and restful slumber. She
looks like she wants to kill him.
Did I mention the bags under her eyes? Obviously they are fake, because what model would show up for a photo session for
Newsweek Magazine looking this ragged? Besides, real bags are puffier and less purple — I know. Still, the makeup job is effective.
This woman looks weary.
The article is chock-full of interesting facts about sleeplessness and offers the latest findings from experts in the field of sleep
It turns out there are many reasons why we don't feel rested, from sleep apnea and obesity to anxiety and "restless leg syndrome"
(that twitchy feeling you get in your legs that makes you flex your feet upward). The article also lists the problems that affect
women's sleep at virtually every stage of life, from the onset of puberty straight through menopause.
It even explains how improving our "sleep hygiene" could help us get more rest. "Sleep hygiene" is a term I never heard before. It
refers to our habits such as what time we go to bed every night, what shows we watch on television in the evening, whether we pay
our bills before bedtime and the environment we sleep in.
This information didn't help me because I can't see how I could ever change my "sleep hygiene." For example, here is what time I go
to bed every night: When I am done folding laundry.
I don't really know what shows I'm watching in the evening, because as soon as I sit down in front of the television, I doze off. That's
when I know it's time to get into bed, which is when I stop sleeping.
Obviously I pay bills before bedtime because paying bills is something you have to do in the dark. The numbers look smaller when
you can't see them.
The environment in which I sleep? A home I share with five other people and a dog, any one of whom can wake me by merely
snarfing into a pillow while turning over in bed.
The article mentions the demanding roles we women play as sources of stress, one explanation for our inability to snag our fair
share of "Z's". We're professionals, wives, mothers, caregivers to our parents, community volunteers — heck, we're even regular
people. We have a lot going on.
But I'm not so sure that the pressure of our many roles is the cause of the sleeplessness, per se. It's that juggling all these jobs
requires time to think, and there's no time to think during the day. We can only think at night, when all the people we're serving are
asleep and will finally leave us alone.
I get some of my best thinking done while I'm not sleeping.
Thankfully, I'm past the phase in life that the Newsweek story described so accurately — the time when babies and small children
require round-the-clock attention. Instead, I'm at the stage when I wait up for people to finish typing term papers. No, I don't have to
stay up. But I know there will be a knock on my bedroom door when the printer paper jams, so I figure why get my hopes up for
Newsweek's story didn't explain an interesting phenomenon that I've experienced for more than 16 years: The lighter I sleep, the
heavier my husband's slumber. It started when we brought our first newborn home from the hospital. That first night she wailed for
seven consecutive hours. Her crying was relentless.
The next morning, my husband came into the kitchen with a bounce in his step and said, "Wow. She slept through the night. What
a great baby."
Despite the helpful information in the magazine, I don't have much hope that I'll start sleeping better anytime soon. No matter what I
do, I'll still be a woman, and that seems to be the heart of the matter.