“About a third of people in developed nations are getting the eight hours recommended by the World Health Organisation. Yet we found that only 12% of women manage that amount, which suggests a worrying gender sleep gap,” reads an article by The Times. The staggering inequality between the sleep patterns of men and women is noteworthy. Something as basic as sleep, is highly affected by structural inequalities of gender as well as class and race.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the United States National Library of Medicine, affiliated to the National Institutes of Health, has conducted research on the varying gender sleep patterns. “Gender differences in time for sleep could be a function of compositional differences in time spent in paid and unpaid work by gender and age,” suggests NCBI. It has been noted that women are more likely to give up paid work for unpaid work, when care-giving responsibilities increase. Men, on the other hand, increase their paid work when responsibilities of fatherhood arise.
According to British sleep neuroscientist Jim Horne, on an average, women need an additional 20 minutes of sleep every day than men, owing to their tendency to multitask.
The Lack of Information
Not enough attention has been paid to the issue of sleep gap, prevailing in the developing countries, possibly on an even larger scale due to greater social and economic disparities between genders. There is an immense lack of data as far as sleep gap is concerned, in the Indian context.
One of the main causes of the sleep gap around the world is the unequal distribution of paid and unpaid labour between men and women. In India, where the notion of women belonging primarily to domestic spaces is largely prevalent, women are forced to devote more time to household chores, resulting in long hours of unpaid labour.
Not enough attention has been paid to the issue of sleep gap, prevailing in the developing countries, possibly on an even larger scale due to greater social and economic disparities between genders.
The Burden of Unpaid Work
According to Oxfam India’s report called, ‘Mind the Gap– State of Employment in India’, women’s participation in the workforce has been reduced due to the decline in rural jobs, unequal pay, burden of unpaid care work and regressive social norms. On an average, women are paid 34% less than the male workers of the same qualification, doing the same job.
In India, women are bound to domestic work responsibilities due to negative social norms. Hence, although there has been an increase in the number of girls enrolled in schools, they still have a greater amount of unpaid care and domestic work to perform.
According to data published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), there are great disparities in the time spent by men and women on paid and unpaid work as well as on leisure and personal care. These disparities are higher in developing countries than in developed ones. Women in India spend 352 minutes per day on unpaid work, as compared to a meagre 52 minutes spent on the same by men—a difference of 677%. On the other hand, the time spent by men on leisure and personal care is higher at 703 and 283 minutes respectively. Women spend 670 minutes on leisure and 221 minutes personal care.
The gendered responsibilities associated with parenthood are a large contributing factor where gender sleep gap is concerned. Sleep gap increases with the presence of children in the house. Leah Ruppanner, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, has expressed how sleep, work and family are interconnected.
“Women are experiencing this double whammy, this cyclical disadvantage of work stress, plus family stress, plus interrupted sleep, plus this interruption of family life into work life in a way that doesn’t happen for men,” she said to NBC News. “That’s going to deplete women’s energy in a way that’s disproportionate to men.”
In India, especially in rural areas, women are primarily associated with the responsibilities of childbearing and childcare. Conducting a survey of 1000 rural households in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh, Oxfam reported that 53% of those surveyed, believed that it was acceptable to harshly criticize a woman if she failed to care well for the children. 33% believed that it was acceptable to beat a woman for the same.
In India, where the notion of women belonging primarily to domestic spaces is largely prevalent, women are forced to devote more time to household chores, resulting in long hours of unpaid labour.
What Science Tells Us
According to British sleep neuroscientist Jim Horne, on an average, women need an additional 20 minutes of sleep every day than men, owing to their tendency to multitask. The sleep requirements are affected by the complexity and intensity of the brain activity during the day. While science states that women require additional sleeping time, the social and economic factors do not enable them to receive even the bare minimum sleep required by people in general.
The Independent’s article on Professor Horne’s research has discussed the psychological impact of the lack of sleep on women.
“The study also found that poor sleep among women was linked to a number of side effects. Increased levels of psychological distress and greater feelings of hostility, depression, and anger were all found in women who slept poorly, but not men.”
The sleep gap problem, while not discussed enough, is more serious than it seems. The importance of sleep is medically proven and there has been a great focus on curbing sleep disorders. According to the Cleveland Clinic, sleep deprivation leads to lack of alertness, behavioural changes, impaired memory and consequently, an impaired lifestyle.
Then, why has sleep gap not been able to garner the attention it deserves? Sleep should be independent of one’s gender and other social constructs. Intensive research on the topic and increased awareness regarding the same, are the primary steps that can be taken to make this possible.
Featured Image Source: Time