In another bioethnographic project ELEMENT and MEXPOS researchers are now investigating potential relationships between sleep, aging, chemical exposures, class and menopause. The public and environmental health literature tends to investigate sleep and make sleep hygiene recommendations assuming that individuals have control over their sleep habits and sleep environments (including sleeping alone or with a partner/spouse in a separate bedroom). However, recent work in the ELEMENT cohort showed that a high proportion of adolescents shared bedrooms, and those that shared bedrooms actually reported sleeping better than those who slept alone.
Currently, we are conducting 30 exploratory open ended interviews with ELEMENT mothers, who are in the midst of the menopausal transition. The MEXPOS team has found that sleep, which can seem so solitary and individual, is a profoundly social experience for these working class women who usually live in extended households. Spending time with family members and taking care of other family members’ well-being and sleep needs often take precedence over a woman’s own sleep. Further, many of the factors that are assumed to affect sleep, like noise, light, and caffeine, are not perceived by these women as having any bearing on their sleep. Instead, it is the stress and worries of the family and economic situations that often prevent them from sleeping or cause them to waken in the night. Further plans to explore sleep include linking these interviews with actigraph data from the larger ELEMENT cohort and carrying out a larger scale and more comprehensive study of how specific environments produce specific ways of sleeping.