Women sacrifice sleep to "Do It All," survey finds

By Kristen Bole on March 06, 2007

American women are struggling to “do it all” and are sacrificing sleep to juggle their family and work responsibilities, according to a new survey led by a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco.

The 2007 Sleep in America Poll, sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation, queried more than 1,000 adult women nationwide across all ages and races. It found that 60 percent of American women get fewer than one or two nights of good sleep each week, and 40 percent have sleep problems every night. The result is a significant impact on their mental and physical health, personal lives, professional work and driving safety.

“We found that the majority of American women are continually sleep deprived, either because of young children, biological changes like pregnancy and menopause, stress or pets,” said Kathryn Lee, PhD, a professor in the Department of Family Health Care Nursing in the UCSF School of Nursing, who led this year’s study. “The impact on their families, personal and professional lives, and society is enormous.”

The survey results were reported at the Foundation’s two-day scientific workshop on women and sleep, held in conjunction with the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine. National Sleep Awareness Week, an annual health promotion campaign sponsored by the Foundation, began March 5 and culminates with the return of daylight savings time on March 11.

Survey participants reported that the lack of sleep caused them to be late to work, experience high stress, feel depressed or anxious, forego exercise, be too tired for sex, drive while drowsy and have little time for personal or family relationships.

Findings showed the primary cause of sleep deprivation was women’s efforts to fulfill their responsibilities in all aspects of their lives, including in professional work, child care, family needs and spousal relationships. Women’s sleep is further compromised by biological changes at various reproductive life stages, according to Lee.

The problem was most acute among working mothers, whom the study termed the “briefcase and backpack” group. Those women’s efforts to manage full-time work schedules as well as family responsibilities left them staying up late and continually sleep deprived, according to survey results.

That group reported an average of only six hours in bed per night. Nearly three-quarters of working mothers said they also suffered from insomnia or lack of sleep.

“This is not to say that mothers should not be in the workforce,” Lee said. “In fact, they are often the most productive, organized and efficient members of the staff. But it does point out the need for employers and our society as a whole to support them better.”

Lee said this support could include more flexible work hours, onsite child care, shuttle services to reduce driving risks, cafeterias that offer take-home meals for families, and opportunities for women to get exercise during the work day. It also could include greater support from spouses in handling home responsibilities, including preparing meals.

## Other survey findings include:

• Sleep and exercise are the first things to go when women have too much to do in a day. The last to go is work.

• Nearly half of all women say they don’t get enough sleep every night.

• 30 percent of pregnant women and 42 percent of post-partum women report rarely getting a good night’s sleep, while 84 percent suffer from insomnia a few nights per week.

• Women wake frequently during the night due to noise (39 percent), giving care to children (20 percent) and pets (17 percent).

• 47 percent of women say they have no one to help with childcare at night;

• 35 percent of working moms report driving while drowsy.

• 65 percent drink caffeinated beverages to cope with the lack of sleep.


Lee said these results substantiate two decades of research she has conducted on women’s sleep patterns, most of which has concentrated on biologically-related sleep deficits throughout women’s life cycle.

This is the Foundation’s 10th annual survey of the American public’s sleep habits and the first to focus on women’s sleep patterns at all ages and biological states. Previous studies have focused on adults in general; older adults; infants, toddlers and young school children; and adolescents.

The National Sleep Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving greater understanding of sleep and sleep disorders.

UCSF is a leading university that advances health worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences and health professions, and providing complex patient care.

Note To The Media: For more information about the National Sleep Foundation news conference reporting the survey results, contact Kristin Francini at (202) 745-5107 or kfrancini@gymr.com.