"When's the last time I slept?" a mom wondered out loud to her co-workers. "I don't know, last year?"
Sleep gets a lot of laughs. When my kids were young, I joked to people all the time how funny it was that I was so sleep-deprived I was running over curbs and going through stops signs in my minivan.
The joke continued for years until one day, I was buying groceries at the supermarket and suddenly, the aisle began to spin. A minute later, I was holding onto the grocery cart for my life, positive I was dying. Frantic, with two children under the age of 4 in the cart and a husband equally as busy and out of the country for work, I called my best friend Melissa.
After a trip to the emergency room and a dozen doctor visits, I was assured I wasn't dying. What I had experienced in the grocery store was a panic attack. I was a mom with two young kids getting back to work and hadn't slept for eight hours a night in... I don't know... three years.
So what did I do? I went on klonopin, an anti-anxiety drug. For years, I stayed on this addictive drug to keep my insatiable hunger for energy up. I was working now, raising two kids. It never occurred to me to get more sleep. Sleep was for wimps. Sure, I was tired, I'd joke, but there was no way I was going to take a nap. I didn't have time for a nap.
What woman has time for a nap?
You can probably guess the rest of this story. While my chronic depletion fed my hunger for energy and the klonopin gave me that energy to keep going, eventually, my health began to fail me. A million tests later I learned I didn't have a life-threatening illness, but I did have chronic fatigue and hot flashes in my mid-30-year-old body that added up to not feeling good every single day.
Eventually, I took to my bed and slept because I was sick and our culture deems rest OK when you're sick. I finally had permission to sleep.
"Go to bed," the doctor told me.
"Lay in bed all day," my colleagues urged.
"Sleep as much as you can," friends encouraged me.
I slept for nearly a year. That's right, I disappeared from life for a year. My days were spent doing mostly nothing, a little of this and that. I got over eight hours of sleep every night. Within a month I was off klonopin, in two months the hot flashes went away, at six months all the other physical issues left my body, and within a year I felt better than I had ever felt, even as a youth.
Sleep and deep rest were my medicine. But why did I have to wait for permission to sleep? Why did I -- like so many other busy women -- not take this free medicine as a preventative?
This got me thinking about all the women of the world who are walking around depleted and dulled in their senses. As Dr. Rubin Naiman says in his book, Healing Nights: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming and Awakening, our culture's "consciousness is damaged and downsized" from this depletion mode we live in and even glorify in our culture.
Dr. Naiman says, "too many of us live in a kind of foggy bubble -- a chronic, low grade, insidious daze."
So what's an exhausted woman to do? I'm only too aware that my year of sleep is not possible for most women. But remember, my year of "bed rest" came after I ran myself into the ground. This might be the key.
What if women took being tired seriously? What if napping in the work place was mandatory so women -- who multi-task like crazy -- can stop and take a moment to be conscious? My guess is that their productivity and influence as leaders would soar, not to mention their happiness scale. In fact, I'm seeing this all the time in the women I mentor and the workplaces I enter.
That's why this week, I'm hosting the first-ever World Sleep Summit for Women's Health and Power. Arianna Huffington, a passionate advocate for women getting better sleep, is leading off the day. In addition Dr. Rubin Naiman, a sleep and dream specialist at Dr. Andrew Weil's Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, and well known sleep doctor Dr. Michael Breus will be speaking. As well as one of my conscious nap favorites Robin Carnes who co-founded Warriors at Ease, helping war veterans overcome anxiety and PTSD using an ancient yogic nap technique.
For more info go to: www.sleepsummitforwomen.com
To join our Facebook discussion go here.
Tweet me too (#womensleep): @karen_brody
Rest and sleep are a largely overlook treatment for so many health issues women are dealing with today. What if women chose to make rest in their lives a top priority? Now IS the time.
Follow Karen Brody on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karen_brody