Is sleep a feminist issue? The gender sleep gap and women’s sleep


It’s a fact we’ve known since we were very small: sleep really is the foundation to everything. It’s why our parents made sure we were tucked up in bed early on a school night, why we’re so obsessed with bedtime routines, and why we dedicate so much time to thinking and talking about it as adults.

But despite  all this, there’s one slight problem: very few of us get enough of it. Often, it’s not for want of trying – in fact, there’s more sleep tech, guided meditation apps and expert tips going around than ever before – but the untouchable dream of a “good night’s sleep” always seems to be just out of reach.

Of course, it makes sense that we’re looking for the answer. We know that phones are bad for our sleep, so we put them outside our bedrooms. We know that temperature is important, so we make sure to turn the central heating down. But what if the mere fact of being a woman was another thing standing in the way of a restful night?

That’s the problem many of us fail to realise is getting in the way of restful sleep, according to psychotherapist and yoga teacher Lisa Sanfilippo. Taking to the stage at Stylist’s Restival earlier today (19 January), Sanfilippo posed a particularly important question: is sleep a feminist issue? Her answer was a resounding yes.

“There is a sleep gap,” she explained. “Just like there’s a pay gap between men and women, there’s a sleep gap, and part of it is gendered – part of it is that women have certain roles. If I look at how much time my husband spends getting ready in the morning versus how much time I do – and I’m pretty minimal, I’ve got it down to about maximum 15 minutes, and that’s with drying my hair – but he spends a maximum of three minutes.

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Lisa Sanfilippo on stage at Stylist's Restival

Lisa Sanfilippo: Just like there’s a pay gap between men and women, there’s a sleep gap.”

“So if you look over the course of a week, how much more time I’m spending just on my small routine, and how much other stuff I could be doing in that time, it adds up.”

Alongside the part these gender roles play in our continued lack of sleep, Sanfilippo was also keen to highlight the role that female biology plays in how much sleep we get.

“There are things to do with the female sex and being a woman biologically,” she explained. “So if you are of menstrual age, for two or three days a month your body temperature is going to go up and your core body temperature is raised, which makes it harder to sleep – just biologically. Even without you doing anything wrong, you’re going to naturally have a harder time sleeping.”

She continued: “And when you add into the mix something like pregnancy, when our bodies change in really dramatic ways, or things like childbirth, taking care of young children, and then even when that’s done you get perimenopause, and menopause – everything that has to do with having a female body is going to somehow affect your sleep.”

However, just because our bodies are designed a certain way, it doesn’t mean we have to settle for poor quality sleep, Sanfilippo went on to explain. With so many tips, tricks and scientific studies out there, there are lots of things we can do. Indeed, one such way to tackle problems like insomnia and lack of sleep is through the practice of yoga, as Sanfilippo explores in her book Yoga Therapy for Insomnia and Sleep Recovery. 

You can find out more about her journey – and learn about the yoga stretches that can help you to sleep – here.

The Stylist Restival is an event focused on the one thing many of us don’t get enough of: a good night’s sleep. Stay tuned on our social channels, on stylist.co.uk and in the magazine from the 5 February to learn more about all things sleep from our team of experts.

Images: Bronac McNeill



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