Although they have higher sleep needs than men, women sleep less in general. This can lead to a variety of health consequences.
While the wage gap is a hot topic in economics, there is another gender disparity that has been the subject of much discussion in the scientific community: The sleep gap. Women physiologically need more sleep than men and spend more time in bed trying to get this sleep. However, they are more likely to suffer from insomnia and sleep less hours on average. The mental and physical consequences of this pattern can be severe.
Why Do Women Sleep Less?
Researchers are unsure as to exactly why women sleep less, but the female hormones estrogen and progesterone appear to be linked to sleep length and quality. The levels of these hormones fluctuate over a woman’s monthly cycles. Progesterone appears to make women sleepier while estrogen has the opposite effect. The constantly fluctuating nature of these hormones may affect the circadian rhythm as well.
In addition, many women suffer from a lack of sleep when they are pregnant or caring for young children. Even in the modern world, childcare is often the main duty of the mother. Once children are grown, women may suffer from sleep apnea, hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause that interfere with sleep. The result is that over a woman’s lifetime, she is likely to sleep far less than the typical man.
Gender and Sleep Disorders
Even without the demands of menstrual cycles and mothering, women are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders. Women wake more easily from noise or movement, and have a hard time falling back to sleep. More than twice as many women as men suffer from insomnia. The result is that women spend more time in bed trying to sleep, but get less sleep on average.
Why Do Women Need More Sleep?
Getting less sleep can be particularly devastating to women because they tend to have higher sleep needs. Researchers believe that multitasking and other behaviors that are more common in the female gender tire the brain out faster, leading to higher sleep needs. The cortex is the area of the brain involved in this type of higher order thought, and it shuts down for maintenance when people are in deep sleep. Women especially need to rest this crucial area of the brain to maintain its high level of daily function.
Consequences of Sleeplessness
Not getting enough sleep has negative behavioral and health consequences for all people, but women seem especially prone to some of the effects of sleeplessness. Women are especially likely to develop mental effects such as depression and anger. They also are more prone to cardiovascular damage, metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases when they don’t get enough shuteye. The result is that women sleep less and have more effects of this sleeplessness.
The sleep gap is a subject being intensely studied due to its negative effects on half of the population. Until female insomnia is better understood and more effectively treated, most experts agree that lifestyle measures are usually the best approach. Turn off lights in the evening, avoid screens, try to quiet your mind and take a melatonin supplement if needed. Getting even a little bit more sleep can have a huge effect on energy levels, mental function and lifelong health.