The Sleep Deficit and How to Overcome It

As women, we hear the ever-present messaging to “lean in” to our careers. We’re applauded for our late nights at the office and wear busy-ness as a badge of honor among our peers. Even with the desire for more work-life balance, we find that the other voices in our world can be louder and more pervasive: “Lean in.” “Work hard, play hard.” “The early bird gets the worm.” One of the ways that we suffer most is in our sleep. Globally, we are experiencing a growing sleep deficit and there are several indicators that sleep deficit has a greater impact on women than men.

Women spend more time sleeping than men on every day of the week, according to a 2014 study by Sleep Cycle, but that that doesn’t mean women are getting the right type of sleep. People in the United States experience some of the worst sleep quality worldwide (Hall, 2015). Women are also 20% more likely to suffer from insomnia (Anderson, 2017). Single working women and working moms with young children are logging the worst sleep, usually logging only 6 hours to the 7.5 hour minimum that most adults need to be happy and healthy.

Health is one of the first major impacts we hear about with a lack of sleep. Edward Suarez, Ph.D. and associate professor at Duke University School of medicine and researcher of sleep hygiene found that “for women, reduced sleep was associated with significant increase in risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as more stress, depression, anxiety and anger (Anderson, 2017).” Men, on the other hand, didn’t experience these same associations. Men’s level of testosterone increases with a lack of sleep and testosterone has anti-inflammatory properties. This function actually keeps men’s stress hormones lower. Women have higher levels of progesterone, which does not have the same stress-reducing effect. Estrogen is anti-inflammatory but, as we age and our estrogen levels decrease, we can experience worse sleep and a worse quality of sleep.

There are major impacts on the career-front for those experiencing poor sleep quality and inadequate sleep hours. Cutting back on sleep can keep people from their very best work. Decisions at work, relationship challenges and just daily life, require judgement, problem solving and creativity that only a rested mind is capable of. Sleep enhances both creativity and judgement. “The workaholism leads to a lack of sleep, which in turn leads to never being able to do your best. In fact, many women do this on purpose, fueled by the mistaken idea that getting enough sleep means you must be lazy or less than passionate about your work and your life (Huffington, 2011).”

If you are looking to log more hours of sleep in your week, the following tips can get you there:

  1. Make your sleep area a sanctuary. Get the television, phones, tablets and computers out of that space. Keep your bedroom for sleep and intimacy, alone. If it makes your space a nicer place for you, keep some books, soft blankets and candles in your space.
  2. Only nap if absolutely necessary. Taking a late afternoon nap can help to supplement hours of sleep missed at night but limit that time to 20-30 minutes.
  3. Caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours, so avoid caffeine after noon. Cutting back on alcohol can also help. Although alcohol can act as a sedative, it can also disturb your sleep.
  4. Studies show that regular exercise can help you get a solid night of sleep. Try to avoid it within 3 hours of bedtime, since it is a stimulant.
  5. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, at least on weekdays. Try not to add to your sleep deficit and, if you do, use the weekends to make up for some of that lost sleep (Harvard Health Publications, 2017).



Anderson, Charlotte, (2017). Do Women Need More Sleep than Men? Retrieved from:

Harvard Health Publications (2017). Women and Sleep: 5 Simple Steps to a Better Night’s Rest. Retrieved from: -one-simple-step-to-be-a-lo….

Huffington, Arianna & Leive, Cindi (2011). Sleep Challenge 2010: Women, It’s Time to Sleep Our Way to the Top. Literally. Retrieved from:…

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