When it comes to sleep, being a male or female is not the same, or equal. There are a lot of expectations about sleep and even more about the amount that women and men need versus how much they get. In order to get quality sleep, it’s important to understand what hindrances or advantages men and women have.
How Sleep Occurs
Out of the many differences between men and women’s sleep patterns, the most basic difference is their circadian rhythms1. Circadian rhythms are “are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment2.” Men’s rhythms are slightly longer than women’s. It’s often noticed that many women tend to be morning birds while men tend to be night owls. Many women feel more energy during the day, but find themselves very sleepy at night. However, they are unable to get the sleep they need and go to bed early. There are often many responsibilities (work, children and home) that halt women from going to bed when their bodies tell them it’s time.
Men’s sleep schedules run consistent with a 24-hour sleep cycle. However, sleep scientists have found that men have a more difficult time handling inadequate sleep than women3. Conversely, women would typically have an advantage over morning shifts than men would in comparison to overnight shifts.
Studies have also found that the way women sleep is also different from men. Women spend more time in deep sleep that is restorative and boosts memory. This has been attributed to differences in the aging of men and women. As men age, they do not go through the same REM cycle that they did in their younger years.
Sleeping Disorders in Women
Women are more likely than men to experience sleep disorders. This is in part due to the hormonal changes that a woman goes through in her lifetime like menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Though, the many roles and responsibilities of women have been found to add to greater sleep disturbances in women. Unfortunately, women are also less likely to seek treatment for sleep disorders.
Women are more likely than men to experience insomnia and consequently, more daytime sleepiness. Women often experience Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). It’s especially high during pregnancy but can also happen at different points throughout a woman’s life as her iron levels change.
Sleeping Disorders in Men
Young men are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than women. The reason for this is still somewhat up for debate, but researchers believe it may have something to do with the differences in the upper airway and hormones. Men typically have larger upper airways than women. Additionally, low testosterone can cause low sleep, and little sleep can cause low testosterone. This is due to the findings that testosterone is linked to sleep apnea.
While men and women can both suffer from mental health issues, men are less likely to seek treatment for mental health. This can cause them to have difficulty sleeping, or insomnia.
Ideal Sleep for Men and Women
Generally, both men and women need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. However, it has been found that because women use their prefrontal cortex (front of brain) more for multitasking and due to their circadian rhythm being shorter, they need more sleep than men. Yet, both men and women can suffer from the same sleep disorders and intrusive thoughts that keep them up at night. It’s incredibly important to combat sleep deprivation by practicing good sleep hygiene. This includes going to bed and waking up at consistent times, no technology an hour before bed and sleeping in a darkened room.
If you still have questions about the differences in sleep between men and women, don’t hesitate to reach out to an expert at Advanced Sleep Medicine Services.
- Sex differences in the circadian regulation of sleep and waking cognition in humans. Nayantara Santhi, Alpar S. Lazar, Patrick J. McCabe, June C. Lo, John A. Groeger, Derk-Jan Dijk. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 May 10; 113(19): E2730–E2739. Published online 2016 Apr 18. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1521637113