For the past few years, I have watched food become a pillar of a person’s identity or morality.
What started out as a celebrity sharing their “day on a plate” in the Sunday newspaper, evolved into a monster of ‘influencers’ Instagramming every healthy meal they could photograph in a day.
If you checked all the boxes of vegan, paleo, and something activated to the side you were fundamentally a better human being than someone like me.
Who, for the record, has never consumed an activated anything in my life.
While food has become our moral high ground, sleep – or lack thereof – has silently become the next badge of honour.
“I don’t really sleep that much. I get four hours… I’m probably a miserable b*tch but that’s just how it is,” she said.
Like many other women, Jacenko is staying up working, after putting her two kids to bed.
“I definitely check my emails on the hour throughout the night and I respond,” she explained at a seminar this year in May, according to News.com.au.
“If anyone emails me, they know I’ll respond within 30 seconds.”
To be perfectly honest, after reading Jacenko’s sleeping habits, I wanted to cry.
I’m not exaggerating; I wanted to cry in that I’m-trying-so-hard-but-no-matter-how-hard-I-try-it-will-never-be-enough kind of way.
The type of cry that is only elicited from sheer desperation, frustration, and often a sprinkle of sleep deprivation.
In reality, the 37-year-old isn’t the only woman I have heard who is functioning on under five hours every night.
Speaking on the I Don’t Know How She Does It podcast, chef, Poh Ling Yeow, said her night owl habits were a key to her success.
“I’m also one of those people who can function on four or five hours of sleep,” she said.
“Last night I went to bed at four. I actually have to omit sleep to get stuff done.”
On another episode of the same show, Dr Ginni Mansberg also said she’s one of those people who can just not sleep.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really needed as much sleep as everybody else…I am quite a natural early riser. Morning television works nicely and I don’t need eight hours.”
Listen to Dr Ginni on her advice for women sleeping…it’s to have more of it. (Post continues after audio.)
Despite her certainty that she doesn’t need eight hours of sleep, Dr Mansberg said earlier lack of sleep was the number one health question women ask her daily – and she wishes she could change about women.
I don’t need to list every other woman who survives on the under eight-hour limit; it’s probably your life story.
And, I should be crystal clear here: this is not my platform to bring these women down, urge them to change their life choices, or tell them they’re doing things wrong.
It is quite possible all these women are perfectly happy and healthy.
However, I find myself in a panic if that is true.
Almost every person justifies their sleeping habits by, “I’m just one of those people who doesn’t need sleep.”
Speaking to an expert, this is a viable reason.
“There are individual differences in how long people sleep and there is such thing as short sleeper syndrome where people habitually get less than four hours sleep,” explains Professor Dorothy Bruck, Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation.
“You can’t train yourself to do this but some people have this genetic mutation and can survive on less sleep,” Professor Bruck says.
There is a world of difference between having a genetic mutation where you honestly need less sleep and where you have trained your body to function on less sleep.
A world of difference.
As both ‘celebrities’ and our peers have become more open about how we ‘do it all’, equally, we have turned our sacrifices into success points.
We have turned our ability to reply to an email within 30 seconds as a point of pride.
We admit that to achieve every life goal, going to bed after midnight is mandatory.
We have undeniably – and dangerously – linked losing sleep to our success.
And, on top of that, we also correlate our willingness to stay typing away on our computers with our ambition levels.
This rhetoric starts in school, where teenagers casually say, “I worked until 3am on this assignment” as an indication of their hard work. It proliferates through university with #allnighter a norm during exam block, and becomes limitless once we add a full-time job, family, not-profit/volunteering work, tuckshop duty, socialising, exercise, and mindfulness to the mix.
Which is why, when Jacenko added her voice to the list of women who deprive themselves of sleep in order to achieve and maintain their success, I was on the verge of desperation tears.
Because, I am not one of those women.
I physically can’t be one of those women.
Not just because I haven’t been blessed with a genetic mutation that means I can sleep less, but I was also diagnosed at 16 with epilepsy, which is worsened by sleep deprivation.
Me, at about 16, before I was diagnosed.
The best part about epilepsy is that if you want to live seizure-free, with medication, you NEED sleep.
I need eight hours of sleep a night.
Of course, I have late nights every now and then but on the whole, you will find me in my bed between 9 and 10pm.
I will not be waking up until 6am.
That is my life. Hell, it's my sleep on a plate.
And, it terrifies me that as we increasingly correlate late nights with ambition, people will think my prioritisation of sleep shows I just don't want it. Enough.
I do. I want my career; I want professional success with every inch of my being.
But, regardless of my epilepsy or not, my sleep will always come first.
For those wondering, I am not a mother. Trust me, that has rung in the back of my head as it is a completely different ball game for parents.
Children will trump almost everything.
But, speaking on the podcast, The Well, radio host and mother, Robin Bailey, broke down admitting that her sleeping habit for four hours a night is a choice.
"Sleep is a choice. I could give you 400 reasons why in the past 24 hours I only got four hours sleep, but at some point I have to own that I made those choices to do those things and put other things ahead of sleep," she said.
I have made my sleep a choice, now. Every day, I choose that.
Some days, it makes me feel like a nanna. Other days, it means I miss out on a show that starts at 10pm (also: can we talk about our night starting at 10pm). And, today, my choice of sleep made me feel shame.
But, I refuse to believe that my career and future success is inextricably tied to when I put my head on my pillow.
Just like my choice of a milkshake over a green smoothie doesn't make me morally unsound, my sleep will not make me a career-failure.