Aren't We Beyond Saying Mother Needs a Little Helper?

Yet another way our generation disappoints: We don’t even choose cool, generation-defining drugs. In an article in The New York Times this weekend titled “Sleep Medication: Mother’s New Little Helper,” writer Pamela Paul describes how today’s moms are so strung out from multitasking and hyper-parenting that they’re hitting the sleeping pills in record numbers.

Paul reports that nearly 3 in 10 women in the United States use some kind of sleep aid at least a few nights a week, and last year 15,473,000 American women between the ages of 40 to 59 received a prescription for one. According to a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation, 80 percent of women reported they couldn’t sleep because of stress or worry.

Women in Paul’s article, all mothers, cited their never-ending to-do lists, their urge to control, and their addiction to email, as reasons so many are stocking up on the Ambien, Lunestra, Tylenol PM, and melatonin.

But some commenters at The New York Times are accusing Paul of psycho-pathologizing women, while ignoring the fact that hormonal changes often cause wakefulness during this time in their lives.

As Ellen from Tucson writes:

“It’s no accident that the use of sleep aids peaks in women aged 40-59. That’s also when female hormones take a hike. I was one of those sleepless women until my doctor prescribed progesterone. Works like a charm.”

The National Sleep Foundation backs Ellen from Tucson up with this explanation:

“During the course of perimenopause through menopause, a woman’s ovaries gradually decrease production of estrogen and progesterone, a sleep-promoting hormone.”

Though I always enjoy Paul’s articles and children’s book reviews, I wonder if, rather than blame the problem entirely on women’s psyches, Paul could have also mentioned hormonal changes as a possible cause.

Meanwhile, my own research study, which includes myself and all the moms I know, supports the facts of Paul’s article. It is true that we’re all taking anything we can get our hands on to ensure that extra bit of coveted restfulness. This is especially true this week, as Daylight Savings Time ends and the new normal for parents begins promptly at 5 a.m.