When this book was chosen by my book club, comprised mostly of middle-aged women like myself, I thought I would learn how to get more sleep. But despite the title, it’s really not about sleep at all. Here, lack of sleep is one symptom among many experienced by Generation-X women, squashed as we are between women who won’t retire and millennials who seem more appealing to employers. Our generation, born between 1965 and 1980, is often exhausted and overwhelmed by the demands placed on us by society—and ourselves. We are often the children of divorce, and we have way too much debt, among other woes.
Ada Calhoun, building on an essay in O, The Oprah Magazine, interviewed more than 200 women across the U.S. about their experiences as the first generation of women who were supposed to “have it all.” Having it all meant, in the words of the notorious Enjoli perfume commercial, that we were supposed to “bring home the bacon …fry it up in a pan … and never let you forget you’re a man.” According to Calhoun, it just hasn’t worked out that way for most of us, because we are not superhumans. We simply can’t have it all or do it all, including being the kind of mothers our mothers were never pressured into being.
“According to the Pew Research Center, in 1965 mothers spent nine hours a week on paid work and 10 hours on childcare. In 2016, mothers spent 25 hours a week on paid work and fourteen on child care,” she writes. “Something has to give, and it's usually women’s leisure.”
Leisure, and sleep. So what is the answer? That’s where the book breaks down a bit. While it is fascinating to glean insights from Calhoun’s studies and anecdotes, solutions are thin on the ground. At the end of the book, Calhoun began hanging out with friends more, treating her perimenopause with hormone therapy, and cutting down on social media. These are all good things, but in light of the overwhelming issues brought to light in this book, they hardly scratch the surface. I appreciated Calhoun’s crisp, compassionate writing and found her research compelling. But I found myself wishing she had written this book through the eyes of faith. Then readers such as myself could have been guided to lean on God for wisdom and strength and to find purpose and hope even amid depressing statistics. (Grove Atlantic)