Why Do Women Need More Sleep Than Men?

Do you notice women complaining more about lack of sleep than men? Well, they actually have good reason to — and there’s plenty of research to back it up. While sleep is one of the human body’s most important physiological needs — essential for a person’s health and well-being and absolutely vital for optimal learning and memory — the total amount needed for men and women can vary greatly.1 Let’s figure out why this may be.

Gender Differences in Sleep

Various studies have concluded that women need more sleep than their male counterparts. One study in particular, conducted at the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University in the UK, concluded that because women multitask much more than men, their brains are busier throughout the day, meaning they end up needing more sleep at night.2 More specifically, they found that, on average, women need at least 20 minutes more sleep than men.

Still, women are often getting less sleep than men overall. Several studies show that they sleep lighter and experience more sleep disturbances than men. In a home-based study among 400 adults, women tended to wake up more often in the night. They also reported spending more time awake and having poorer sleep quality.3

Women also feel the mental and physical consequences of poor sleep much more than men do. A 2008 study by Duke Medical Center found that women who slept poorly were more prone to feelings of anger, depression, and hostility. And the less they slept, the greater they experienced psychological distress. These markers did not appear in the men in the study — even those who slept very

poorly.[Wake-up call on sleep, Duke magazine UK[/ref]

Hormonal Factors that Can Affect a Woman’s Sleep

There are several biological and lifestyle factors, particularly ones that influence the hormonal balance within the body, that may affect a woman’s quantity and quality of sleep.

1. Menstrual Cycles

Menstruation can cause a great deal of discomfort for many women. Abdominal cramping, irritability, food cravings, and mood swings may disturb a woman’s sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 23% of women report disrupted or disturbed sleep in the week before menstruation, and 30% report disrupted sleep during their periods.4 Some women also experience menstrual insomnia.

2. Pregnancy

A woman’s body undergoes a great deal of change and stress during pregnancy. Due to the additional weight and the position of the fetus, sleep disturbances are common during this time. An increase in the level of the hormone progesterone can also negatively affect sleep.

In the later stages of pregnancy, women may experience poor sleep due to:

  • Leg cramps, backache, or heartburn
  • Movement of the fetus
  • General discomfort
  • A need to
    urinate more often

3. Menopause

As our bodies age, our sleep patterns tend to shift as well. Women undergoing menopause can experience difficulty falling and staying asleep. They also tend to wake up frequently during the night or early morning, sometimes due to hot flashes, night sweats, or palpitations.5

4. Emotional and Lifestyle Factors

Mood disorders like anxiety and depression, psychological and physical stress, and a poor lifestyle (irregular sleep schedules, too much alcohol and/or caffeine, poor sleep hygiene, or a snoring partner) can also keep women from getting enough sleep. Women who share a bed may be affected by their partner’s sleep habits, especially if they have erratic sleeping patterns. However, a study by Troxel et al. found that the stable presence of a partner is linked to better sleep quality and sleep continuity in women.6

Overall, poor lifestyle habits and poor sleep can turn into a vicious

cycle. Cleaning up the diet, lowering stress levels, and keeping consistent sleep patterns (falling asleep and waking up at the same time everyday) can significantly improve a woman’s quality of sleep and, consequently, her health and well-being.