Sleep is the new luxury many still can’t afford.
In an Op-Ed for the Daily Mail this Sunday, actor and professional weigher-in Gwyneth Paltrow invited readers to embrace the idea of something she calls “clean sleeping.” Like clean eating, clean sleeping purports that we can all greatly improve our health and wellness by being hyper-vigilant about one day-to-day metric. In this case, Paltrow suggests “at least seven or eight hours of good, quality sleep — and ideally even ten” a night as the road to optimal living.
She’s not a doctor though, she admits, so she invites a nutritional scientist, a detox expert, and an osteopath to weigh in as well. Everyone seems to be in agreement that sleep is good for your body, and that you’ll most likely notice improvements like glowing skin, decreased appetite, and improved hormone regulation—but somehow nowhere in the article do we address why people aren’t getting enough sleep in the first place. It’s as if all of us are wandering around staying up ’til 2 A.M. and getting wrinkles just because we’re ignorant and watching cartoons, not… say, concerned about keeping our jobs or caring for children.
A summarizing bullet beneath the headline illustrates this pretty well. It proclaims, “She says [sleep] should be your first priority — even before you think about your diet.” Our first priority. Before, “Am I going to pay my rent on time?” or “Is it worth going to the doctor to get this cold checked out?” we should be asking, “Have I gotten my seven to ten hours?”
Of course, in a perfect world, sleep wouldn’t be caught in an either/or dynamic with our other basic needs, but I don’t know that I’ve held a single job that wouldn’t be pissed as hell with me if I replied to an e-mail ten hours after it was sent because “sleep is my first priority right now.” If I walked into a morning meeting late because “I’m really emphasizing sleep as part of my lifestyle,” I don’t think I’d get invited to many more morning meetings, and I doubt I’m alone here. The culture of having a full-time paying job is, “This is a priority for you,” and since it finances the lifestyle that allows you to click on Gwyneth Paltrow Daily Mail links, you don’t really have the luxury of saying, “Hm, but I think it’ll be second to sleep.”
Gwyn’s not alone in this specific tone-deafness: Arianna Huffington, who seems to have dedicated herself full-time to sleep advocacy after stepping down from her Huffington Post role, also promotes an eight-hours-of-sleep-a-night lifestyle. She cites our addiction to devices as a main cause of sleep deprivation, but again doesn’t seem to grasp that it is a privilege to be able to turn off your phone. Would people be looking at their devices so much if they weren’t worried something urgent might get sent their way after-hours? Probably not! Too bad there’s no way of knowing what night will be the night your boss needs you to solve a problem for her.
All of this confusion points to my not being this article’s target audience. In other words: I don’t have the luxury of opting into ten hours of nightly sleep as a lifestyle choice, this must not be for me. But then who is it for? The only answer, as far as I can tell, is women like them—privileged women, white women, women who, perhaps, do not have to report into an office every single day. Perhaps women who have nannies and other caretakers.
Wouldn’t it be cool if they just out and said it instead of grouping us regulars in like this is some lifestyle decision we’re neglecting to make? Wouldn’t a headline calling out business leaders as a group be much more effective and garner a lot less… distaste from your average American? Just saying, “Hey, you need more sleep and so do your employees!” in a headline turns this into an advocacy/HR thing instead of a hobby health nut preaching to the working class from her lifestyle blog. I’d love it if Gwyneth could just call clean sleep what it is—a privilege most people don’t have the power to consider—cause then, yeah, I agree.