There are clear biological differences between men’s and women’s sleep 1 . Both circadian rhythms of melatonin and body temperature are set to an earlier hour in women. On average, women go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than men, while they are more likely to rate themselves as morning types than men 2 .
Objectively, healthy women enjoy better sleep quality than men.
Sleep laboratory studies revealed that females have more slow-wave sleep phases (deep sleep, most refreshing) and significantly longer sleep time; on average women need 20 minutes more of sleep, than men. They also spend less time awake and fall asleep faster 3 .
However, paradoxically, women across a wide range of ages tend to experience more sleep problems. Compared to men, women are twice as likely to have sleep disruptions and insomnia throughout their lives 1 4 . In different studies, women have reported disrupted and insufficient sleep more frequently than men 5 . They report poorer sleep quality, difficulties falling asleep, frequent night awakenings and longer periods of time awake during the night 6 .
While women need more sleep than men they are usually not getting the proper amount of sleep for many reasons:
- Pregnancy – The sleep and wake patterns are significantly challenged before and after the birth period. New mothers are exposed to possible chronic sleep disorders such as an increase in night awakenings, decrease in sleep efficiency and a substantial decrease of sleep time during late pregnancy. Severe sleep deprivation is also widespread during the first few months after giving birth.In addition, elevated levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy may increase the need to urinate during early pregnancy, causing discomfort and consequently sleep disruptions throughout the night. These discomforts, including increased urination, nausea, tender breasts, headache, constipation and heartburn can all affect good night sleep 7 .
- Menopause – Post-menopausal women may suffer from a number of sleep disorders including insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and restless legs syndrome (RLS). These disturbances have been attributed to a number of factors such as normal physiological changes associated with aging, poor health perception, menopausal-related symptoms, nervousness, stress, mood symptoms and more 8 .When menopause hits, there is a decline in estrogen and progesterone production. Decrease in progesterone levels, a sleep-promoting hormone, can cause disturbed sleep. The hormone is both sedative and anxiolytic, affecting receptors which play an important role in sleep cycle8. In addition, during menopause there is also a dramatic reduction in melatonin levels which has a direct effect on sleep 9 . Moreover, menopause can also generate hot flashes and restlessness at night, that prevent women from getting adequate and restful sleep.
- Stress – Women are more likely than men to lose sleep due to the stresses of everyday life and family obligations. This is because women are often up at night more frequently to feed young infants, or soothe and comfort small children having trouble sleeping. Women may also stay up later at night in order to finish work demands after they are finished caring for their children and families for the day.
Compared with men, women were found to have less sleepiness and less performance deterioration following lack of sleep, as well as greater improvements after recovery. These differences can be explained with increased amounts of slow-wave sleep, or “deep sleep,” in women which compensate on the sleep restriction 10 .
Nevertheless, both genders should get between seven and nine hours of good quality of sleep to maintain proper cognitive function and sharp motor abilities. Exercise, sticking to a regular sleep schedule and other health habits can help people fall asleep faster and have a good night’s sleep.