Countless scientific studies suggest women’s total sleep duration is longer than men’s, 11 minutes longer to be exact. This article explores the possible reasons for this as well as exploring why women actually have a lower quality sleep much than men, despite the additional minutes.
Do females need more sleep than males?
An oft-cited study, conducted by Jim Horne, the former Director of UK Sleep Research Centre, found that women needed 20 minutes more sleep than men each night.
The reason for this, as controversial as it may sound, is that the female brain is more likely to work harder during the day compared to the brains of males. Sleep has many paramount functions, but one of the major ones is its restorative power in enabling the brain to recover and repair itself.
This line of thinking is as follows, the harder your brain works during the day, the greater the need for deeper and longer sleep at night. And while it may be too much of a generalisation to say women’s brains always work harder than men’s, women on average have more unpaid work and less leisure time than men, especially married women with children.
Men with an equally demanding schedule, will need the same amount of restorative sleep as women. It’s worth noting that this seminal study was conducted with a relatively small sample size of 210 men and women so evidently more research needs to conducted for more definitive results.
Quality of Sleep
Sleep duration for women may be longer than men’s but this could be due to lower sleep quality, which leads to a greater time spent in bed and more daytime napping. Female sleep quality is worse than males, they are more likely to suffer from interrupted sleep and 40% more likely to suffer from insomnia.
Women are also more negatively impacted by sleep deprivation, with higher cases of anger, depression, and hostility related to a lack of quality sleep.
All of this may lead to the need for more sleep and an increased likelihood of day-time napping, which is more common in females, though in fact may make it more difficult for a restful nighttime sleep. The increase in napping time may be a leading reason why females report longer total sleep time.
But why do women have more trouble sleeping than men? While your partners’ snoring could be the culprit, a combination of biological, societal, and social media factors are also to blame.
Are sleep issues connected to biological factors?
Female reproductive hormones can impact the quality of sleep in a variety of ways. During the menstrual cycle, headaches, cramps pains and bloating can cause sleep problems at night, as well as increased propensity for day-time sleepiness. A staggering 33% of women report symptoms of insomnia during this period.
During pregnancy, depression and pain are common, both of which are associated with poor sleep. Sleep apnoea and insomnia are prevalent too, as well as restless leg sleep syndrome, which makes in more difficult to fall asleep quickly.
Quality of sleep can be lower in the later stages of pregnancy and continue into the postpartum stage, as hormone levels become more sporadic and taking care of a new-born with an irregular sleep pattern begins.
Sleep issues can potentially continue during menopause. Hot flashes, which 85% of women experience, can cause nighttime wakefulness and the likelihood of sleep apnoea also significantly increases. Excessive daytime sleepiness is also common.
Though we have limited control over biological factors, we do have a say over our social media usage, which is commonly connected to a lower sleep quality.
A few reports show that females are more active on social media than men, though this is debatable and should not be taken for fact.
Scrolling through Instagram or Facebook in the hours leading to bedtime, has a detrimental impact on our ability to drift off quickly. The blue–light emitted from laptops and phones delay the onset of melatonin production, which tells your body that it’s time to sleep.
In the days of primitive humans it may have been easier to fall asleep early, but the increased use of artificial light in the evening is pushing back our bedtimes and making it more difficult to fall asleep. This impacts the majority of humans today and unfortunately 90% of Americans report checking their phone in the hour before they sleep
As mentioned earlier, females often have more demanding schedules than males, particularly if they have small children and manage to fit in full-time employment too. Various studies have found that females will often wake earlier than suitable when they have small children, and are statistically more likely to cook and run the household in the evening than males. This form of unpaid responsibility and additional stressors could be another culprit of sleep issues.
So whilst total sleep duration may be longer, women on average are not sleeping as much as they should. We know how important sleep is, it’s often described as the third pillar of health, we should make a bigger effort as a society to help sleep-deprived individuals get they need and deserve.