There are many ways in which women experience sleep differently than men. Women contend with distinct sleep challenges, respond differently to sleep disorders and sleeplessness, and face particular health risks as a result of poor sleep. Research indicates that women need more sleep than men do, and face greater consequences to mental and physical health from insufficient sleep.
Scientific evidence indicates that circadian rhythms in men and women are markedly different. Women’s circadian clocks are set to an earlier time than men’s, making them more inclined to fall asleep earlier and also to wake earlier. For this reason, women tend to have stronger inclinations to be active earlier in the day than men. Overall, women’s circadian cycles are several minutes shorter than men’s.
The biological phases of a woman’s life — and the hormone shifts that accompany them — can bring about sleep problems. Hormone changes that occur during a woman’s menstrual cycle, including fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone, often make falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult.
Restless, disrupted sleep is common during pregnancy. During pregnancy, women are at significantly greater risk for sleep disorders including insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and snoring. Even women who don’t generally experience sleep problems find that during pregnancy they have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as trouble getting enough sleep.
Poor quality, fragmented sleep is a frequent symptom of perimenopause and menopause. Sleep difficulties that occur during menopause may result from hormone fluctuations, and also as a result of other menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats.
Parenthood also can pose challenges for women’s sleep. A majority of mothers — both stay-at-home moms and those working outside the home — report being sleep deprived and experiencing symptoms of insomnia, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Women are more susceptible than men to some sleep disorders, including insomnia and restless leg syndrome (RLS). Women are also more likely to have nighttime pain that interferes with their sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While men are more often diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea than women, research suggests that women suffer from this sleep disorder in higher numbers than were once thought. Women who are overweight or obese, or who have high blood pressure, are especially at risk for obstructive sleep apnea.
Women are at greater risk for some health problems as a result of poor quality or insufficient sleep, according to research. Studies show that women are more vulnerable than men to heart disease and inflammation that is associated with poor sleep. Research indicates that women who already have heart disease are particularly at risk for unhealthful inflammation as a result of not sleeping well. Women may also be more susceptible than men to weight and metabolic problems connected to sleeplessness. Research indicates that low sleep in women is more closely linked to higher BMI. Women who report sleeping poorly are more likely than men to say they experience depression and anger.
Women may fare better then men in the short term, when faced with sleep deprivation. Research shows that when short on sleep, women report feeling less sleepy than men do, and demonstrate smaller declines in daytime performance. Women also rebound more quickly after making up for sleep loss. Scientists attribute this difference to a tendency among women to spend more time in deep sleep.
Woman sleeping photo available from Shutterstock