Understanding women's sleep management: beyond medicalization-healthicization?


Jenny Hislop, Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH e-mail: j.hislop@soc.surrey.ac.uk


Abstract  This paper addresses sleep, which to date has been a neglected area within the sociology of health and illness. We explore the extent to which the concepts of medicalization and healthicization provide appropriate models for understanding the management of women's sleep disruption. The prescription of sleeping pills remains as an indicator of the medicalization of sleep, while the trend towards the healthicization of sleep as part of healthy lifestyle practice is reflected in the increased focus of the media, pharmaceutical and complementary health care industries on sleep. The paper analyses qualitative data on women aged 40 and over to argue that the medicalization-healthicization framework fails to encapsulate a complete understanding of how women manage sleep disruption within the social context of their lives. It suggests that by looking inside the world of women's sleep we uncover a hidden dimension of self-directed personalized activity which plays a key role in women's response to sleep disruption. We propose an alternative model for the management of women's sleep which incorporates a core of personalised activity, linked to strategies associated with healthicization and medicalization.