Sleep deprivation is a serious health problem in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that over a third of all adults in the country don’t get enough shut-eye.1 If you’re a woman, the amount of sleep you need may be even more than the average needed. And if you don’t get enough rest, it could take its toll on your health. But why do women need that extra sleep? And is this claim even true?
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that young adults and adults aged 26 to 64 years get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a day.2 The average older adult (over 64 years) needs to get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a day. Teenagers require around 9 to 10 hours while school-aged kids and pre-schoolers need even more.3 But as research is now uncovering, there may be more to your sleep needs than just your age. Gender too can be important when it comes to determining how much sleep is enough for you. And yes, this seems to be a battle women win hands down!
Women may actually need more sleep than men. Not getting enough sleep causes you to build up what is known as sleep debt – sleep you owe your body and which accumulates over time. And the consequences, as you will see, can be quite serious.
Why Do Women Need More Sleep Than Men?
Women are said to require an average of 20 minutes more sleep than men.4 But what makes the fairer sex need more time in bed? As it turns out, it is a combination of the need for more minutes of sleep and the higher degree of poor sleep women experience compared to men. The latter results in a need for women to play catch up – for the sleep lost or disturbed due to various reasons.
1. Greater Mental Energy Used
Women of the world may rejoice! Sleep experts like the National Sleep Foundation now say that the additional mental energy exerted by women necessitates this additional sleep. According to them, women make use of a greater amount of their brains and also multitask more. This consumes more mental energy. Consequently, when it comes to rejuvenating the brain during sleep, there’s more recovery that’s needed and, therefore, the extra minutes.5
2. Poorer Sleep
Another reason women need to sleep a little more is because, often, the quality of sleep they’re getting isn’t as good. Certain life stages and physiological changes make women more susceptible to less restful sleep. In fact, women are said to be more prone to insomnia and poor sleep in adulthood.6 In one poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, a whopping 63 percent of women said they experienced some form of insomnia every week.7
Women experience very restless sleep during menopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause. Poor sleep quality may be linked to other symptoms associated with menopause like hot flashes or night sweats.8
Hormonal changes as well as physical and emotional changes during pregnancy can cause sleep that’s disturbed when there’s a baby on board. Besides discomfort, the need to pee more often and leg cramps can also make a good night’s sleep feel like a distant dream.9
5. Menstrual Cycle
Even just being a woman past puberty is enough to mess with your sleep. Cramps in the abdomen, discomfort, mood swings, and food cravings all combine to make for a restless night of sleep. Women with premenstrual syndrome are reported to have non-restorative sleep, frequent awakenings, poor sleep quality, and insomnia.10
6. Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless legs syndrome causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, with symptoms worsening in the evening and night. As a result, sleep for someone with the problem is highly disturbed.11 According to research, women are more likely to have restless leg syndrome. There is said to be a link between female hormones and this neurological movement disorder.12
7. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Women with PCOS are more susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which your upper airway gets blocked, causing you to start and stop breathing through the night. You may snore as a result and may experience disturbed sleep.13
8. Secondary Insomnia Triggers
Certain disorders or ailments also make you more likely to develop insomnia as a side effect or associated symptom. Unfortunately, a fair number of these are more common in women – like anxiety, depression, or fibromyalgia.14
Inadequate Sleep more Dangerous For Women
Not only do women need more sleep, but not getting enough sleep can actually be worse for women than men. And that makes the sleep extra critical. As one piece of research found, having poor sleep causes the following issues for everyone, but more markedly in women15:
- Psychological distress
- Increases risk of type 2 diabetes
- Raises risk of heart disease
Researchers suggest that men are less vulnerable because their higher testosterone levels may result in lower BMI, higher insulin sensitivity, and lower levels of inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP).
How To Ensure You Get Adequate Sleep
Here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation that you could follow to help you get enough sleep.16
- Maintain a schedule and fixed bedtime that you stick to even on holidays and the weekend.
- Begin winding down with a warm bath, a cup of hot milk, or other bedtime rituals designed to ease you gently into sleep.
- Ensure your bedroom is dimly lit at night and the temperature is comfortable for you to nod off.
- Invest in a good pillow and comfortable bed linen and mattress.
- Switch off your electronic devices, especially those that are in your bedroom, so that the cool glow of light from them do not hamper your sleep. Switch off all alerts on your smartphone, so that you aren’t tempted to check messages or emails or app alerts.
- Try and get in some exercise every day. This will help you sleep better.
- Avoid drinking stimulants like caffeine or alcohol.
- In addition, one way for a woman to get that extra sleep is to turn in a little earlier than your partner or others in the house. Alternatively, if you feel you’d rather lie in a little longer, move your alarm to a later time so you can get that rest you need.
|↑1||1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Hirshkowitz, Max, Kaitlyn Whiton, Steven M. Albert, Cathy Alessi, Oliviero Bruni, Lydia DonCarlos, Nancy Hazen et al. “National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary.” Sleep Health 1, no. 1 (2015): 40-43.|
|↑3||How Much Sleep is Enough?. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑4||The Difference Between a Man and Woman’s Sleep. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑5||The Difference Between a Man and Woman’s Sleep. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑6, ↑9, ↑14||Insomnia fact sheet. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑7||Women and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑8||Attarian, Hrayr P., and Mari Viola-Saltzman. Sleep disorders in women. Humana;, 2013.|
|↑10||Nowakowski, Sara, Jessica Meers, and Erin Heimbach. “Sleep and women’s health.” Sleep medicine research 4, no. 1 (2013): 1.|
|↑11||Restless Legs Syndrome And Sleep. National Sleep Foundation.|
|↑12||Wesström, Jan, S. Nilsson, Inger Sundström-Poromaa, and J. Ulfberg. “Restless legs syndrome among women: prevalence, co-morbidity and possible relationship to menopause.” Climacteric 11, no. 5 (2008): 422-428.|
|↑13||PCOS and Sleep Apnea. PCOS Awareness Association.|
|↑15||Suarez, Edward C. “Self-reported symptoms of sleep disturbance and inflammation, coagulation, insulin resistance and psychosocial distress: evidence for gender disparity.” Brain, behavior, and immunity 22, no. 6 (2008): 960-968.|
|↑16||How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? National Sleep Foundation.|