Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis

‘I look at the clock… it’s 3am’: Why can’t women sleep?

…A new book from the US … appears at first glance to be more of a feminist manifesto for Generation Xers than a self-help manual for insomniacs. On closer inspection, though, a picture starts to form that’s recognisable to any woman who is knee-deep in the mothering, marriage and career years. Disregarding the generational focus of the book’s premise, it offers, not a cure, but insight and some unpalatable news about the lives of women today. Every right we’ve earned, every advance we’ve made, every career we are now free to embark on continues to co-exist with our near full-time engagement in the oldest job in the world: keeping hearth and home.

Despite a century of emancipation, women still do most of the backstage work that keeps the show on the road. Scratch the surface of this national insomnia pandemic and you discover that inequality is at the heart of the malaise. Aside from sexual politics and headline grabbers, such as #MeToo, most women’s lives aren’t improving quantifiably, they’re just different from 50 years ago.

“It’s great that men and women are equals in the workplace, but what this means in reality is that women are effectively taking on twice the load,” says Dr Elle Boag, associate professor in social psychology at Birmingham City University. “Only too often we do the work, the domestic labour and the childcare (to be fair, sometimes these chores are shared). We’ve adopted this multitasking role and it’s become normative.” So, it’s no surprise that when we go to bed we find we can’t switch off.