The New York Times is out with a revelation that may be startling to exactly zero of the exhausted women out there: take a quick nap at work, and you may wake up revitalized, refreshed, productive, and even happier.
For all the women who read this at their computer or smartphone, bleary-eyed from their umpteenth cup of caffeine, see if you can contain your shock. We're tired because we're not sleeping enough. And we're not sleeping enough because we're women.
Here's why: Female brains are wired to need more sleep than men. Maybe just 20 minutes more, but maybe quite a bit more.
And yet why are we awake running around rather than getting in an extra hour or two? Is it because we just have more to do? Are we just working harder? If there are kids in the picture, is it because our minds are wired to wake up more readily at the sound of a baby's cry?
The sociologist Suzanne Bianchi analyzed American Time Use Survey data and found that women, working mothers in particular, give up both sleep and leisure time. We may be running on fumes, but we're still showing up to work on time, hoping for that 20-minute nap break later in the day to get even more done in the afternoon.
Brigid Schulte, who analyzed the chaotic lives of Americans in her bestselling book, "Overworked: Work, Love and Play when No One Has the Time," told Marie Claire that one reason women are so exhausted is the "mental labor" that women are still expected to do, which means women are typically the ones in charge of keeping the social calendars, remembering birthdays, packing lunches, and scheduling dentist appointments.
On top of that, there's the "emotional labor," which, she says, includes "taking everyone's temperature, reading everyone's signals, making sure everyone is having a good time, happy, satisfied, their needs met...it really takes a physical and mental toll."
A break may be nice for some of us, but to truly take time off, we'll need a partner or co-worker to take up their share of the mental and emotional load.
There are some true warriors who can function well on a few hours of sleep. I've worked with several of them, who can jet-set to Europe on a red-eye flight, take a quick shower at the airport lounge, and be bright eyed for an 8:00 a.m. presentation. To me, these people are superhuman; to an organization, they're considered highly effective.
For the rest of us, not getting enough sleep can tamper with our short- and long-term memory, make us irritable, short-circuit our impulse control (causing us to reach for donuts and chips instead of vegetables and grains), slow our reactions, and dampen our immune systems.
So, yes, take that nap at work and cite the New York Times when doing so. You'll wake up refreshed and recharged, and cite your boost in productivity when a manager comes by. But we already know women are working harder than men, and with better results (yet still fewer promotions), so perhaps we'll need a more clever excuse than the Times' Smarter Living section.
Perhaps it's time to reexamine why we value women's time differently than men's, and if it's okay for some office warriors to take a quick 20 minute nap, then women should find a way to do so, too, and as the Times advises, "apologize to no one" for it.
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Rebecca Gale is an award-winning journalist covering the nexus of politics and people in Washington, D.C. She is currently a writer with the Better Life Lab at New America. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Roll Call, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and Health Affairs, among other outlets. Follow her on Twitter @beckgale
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