12 suprising sleep differences between men and women

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Did you know that women generally feel more energized after bad night sleep than men because they have better sleep quality?
Women and men differ fundamentally in their sleep behavior and biological rhythms; women have higher sleep quality than men and yet, they complain more about their sleep. Studies show that women also nap more than men. I am an anecdotal support to this – I am a huge fan of napping.
Why all these differences? Biological differences between sexes play a role here but cultural factors also contribute – especially differences in life duties.

Here is a list of interesting sleep differences between men and women.

 

1. Women have better sleep quality and sleep more than men

Women do better with sleep quality and quantity than men. Data have been taken from many studies and it has been concluded that women sleep longer (more minutes), they fall asleep faster, get faster into REM-sleep and their and sleep efficiency is generally higher. (R)(R)
The gender gap in sleep time favoring is relatively small. Women sleep 5-25 min more in most comparisons.
It has also been noticed that women get more deep sleep than men. (R) Deep sleep is important for recovery, memory, and learning. Usually after a night with the solid amount of deep sleep it is easier to feel refreshed and well rested than with less deep sleep.

2. Women feel they sleep worse than men

Despite their superior sleep quality, women have more sleep-related complaints than men (R)

In one study over 1000 women and men were asked to rate their sleep on a scale of 1-7. At the end, 25% of women rated their sleep to be 4 or below, and they reported bad sleep more often than men (R).
This is interesting because research also shows that women have higher sleep quality than men and they sleep more minutes on average. (R)

3) Men’s think sleep can be an annoyance

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An interesting interview-based study tested sleep attitudes of 40 men. It found that men see sleep as an important and vital bodily need, but also something that should not stand in the way of other life activities. (R).
The researchers found the following strong themes in men’s attitudes towards sleep…

  1. sleep is a ‘bodily need’, not something “I want”: sleep locates in the body, not in the mind.
  2. you can take control of and made changes to your sleep
  3. the amount of sleep required depends on individual biological factors
  4. there is a link between sleep and efficiency of work
  5. sometimes sleep can be an annoyance or a ‘waste of time’… One man even told that he would like to have a pill that would remove the need for sleep for good!
  6. sleep should never get in the way of ‘having a life’

Overall, it is suggested that men have little regard for sleep and are likely to take risks when it comes to sleep.
This study did not test women attitudes to sleep and I think it would be extremely interesting to see what kind of attitudes women have towards sleep. Taken that women spend their leisure time more often napping than men, there might be an attitudinal difference between gender when it comes to sleep. I did not find any studies in PubMed or PsychINFO that looked at women attitudes towards sleep.

5) Women use their free time to napping, men don’t

Studies show that women use their free time differently than men (R) For example, women may be more likely to nap or go to bed earlier than men (R). In one study of 70 couples, women got more sleep than their male partners because they were more likely to sleep during the day (R). In another study, 40 men were interviewed about their sleep attitudes and it was noticed that many men thought that daytime is an inappropriate time for sleep (R). One man said:

“I find it frustrating that you know… I used to go out with a student and they are always like sleeping during the day. I thought that was lazy” – a man participant

5) Men rate themselves as evening type, women as morning type

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In this study over 2000 men and women were asked if they are a morning or an evening person. From these people, 20 % of women were morning-types, but only 13 % of men were morning types. Similarly, 30 % of men rated themselves as an evening type, but significantly fewer women, only 20 %, rated themselves as evening type (R)

6) Females have 6 minutes shorter circadian rhythm than men and a circadian period shorter than 24-hours

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This study measured biomarkers of sleep (melatonin and body temperature) to assess the intrinsic circadian rhythm of 157 male and female participants. Women had on average 6 minutes shorter intrinsic circadian rhythm. (women: 24 h 5 min± 12 min; men 24 h 11 min ± 12 min). The study tried to minimize any confounding factors by optimizing the cycles of activity-rest, wake-sleep, light-dark and feeding-fasting (R)
They also found that significantly greater proportion of women have intrinsic circadian periods shorter than 24.0 h (35% vs. 14%).

7) Women sleep less on school nights and are sleepier than males

This study looked at the differences between headaches and lack of sleep between genders (R) 600 American adolescent participated and the result showed that

  1. Women reported less sleep on school nights than men
  2. Women were more likely to have sleepiness on school days than men
  3. Women had a higher amount of hypersomnolence (= excessive sleepiness, regardless of how much sleep is had) than men

8) women have more insomnia than men

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A meta-analysis from 2006 concluded that females are more 1.4-times more likely to suffer from insomnia than men. Further studies are needed to examine the reasons for sex difference of insomnia. (R)

9) Men have more sleep apnea than women

Men are over twice as likely to suffer more from sleep apnea than women.
A recent study from January 2018 concluded that current prevalences for obstructive sleep apnea for male and female are 14 % and 6 %, respectively. Data were gathered from over 150 000 men and women (R)

10) Men have different risk factors for sleep apnea than women

The same study that found that men are twice as likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea compared to women also found different associations for sleep apnea risks.
Women’s sleep apnea were more associated with physical inactivity, hypertension, and daytime sleepiness, whereas men’s risks to SA was associated with waist circumference.
These differences in the prevalence of sleep apnea between men and women suggest that there is a sex-specific mechanism in obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea symptoms (National heart, lung and blood institute):

  • Apnea events = reduced or missing breathing
  • Snoring
  • Gasping air during sleep
  • Day-time sleepiness
  • Decreased attention, focus, memory and motor skills
  • Dry mouth in the morning
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Decreased libido

11) Men feel sleepier and do worse in cognitive tests after short-term sleep restriction than women

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A sleep restriction increases inflammation in the body and worsens cognitive performance more in men than in women (R)
This was found in a study of 30 healthy young men and women. Before the study, a set of blood tests, hormonal tests, and EGC were taken to assess participants’ general health. Then participants had 6 nights of sleep restriction (6 nights, 6 h sleep/night) and three recovery nights of 10 hours sleep per night.
The results showed an increase in inflammation (IL-6 and cortisol) levels and worsened reaction times after 6 nights of sleep restriction in both sexes.
Interestingly, they noticed also that men had more subjective sleepiness and performance deterioration after sleep restriction.

Three recovery nights of 10 hours sleep were enough to recover from sleep restriction (IL-6 levels returned to baseline).
In addition, women were faster to recover from the sleep restriction and had greater improvements after recovery nights.

12) Women (but not men) with long-term sleep restriction have an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases

This 17 years long study of over 4000 participants found that good sleep as a lifestyle choice is especially important for women (R)
Firstly, the study found that lack of sleep predicts the increase in inflammation marker (IL-6). IL-6 is related to coronary heart disease.
Secondly, IL-6 levels were lower in those women who got 8 hours of sleep at night compared to those who slept less. Interestingly, they did not find an association between IL-6 levels and sleep duration in men.
The second sleep-related inflammation marker that was found in the women-group was high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP). Hs-CRP predicts death rate to cardiovascular diseases. hs-CRP were significantly higher in women who were sleeping 5 hours or less.
The authors concluded that lack of sleep predicts cardiovascular disease more in women than in men.

To summarize:

There are many interesting differences between men and women what comes to sleep – the rhythm, the timing, and the sleep preferences.
After short-term sleep restriction men do worse on cognitive tests and feel more sleepy and women, so men should take care of their sleep before an important event like an exam, public speak or job interview.
The lack of sleep does not predict cardiovascular diseases in men but does in women. So I am definitely going to continue my daily naps and don’t feel bad about it.
Lack of sleep will increase inflammation and cortisol in the body equally for both sexes, so men and women equally should make sure they take care of the sleep. A good night sleep will make you more energized, happy and well-functioning 🙂

Finally:

We conducted an online-based sleep study that asked men and women “Do you think sleep is important?” We obviously predicted a difference, but guess what we found…

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Maybe we are not so different after all!

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Links:

How to interpret sleep studies, check this article:
How to interpret results of sleep studies

References:

Adan, A., & Natale, V. (2002). Gender differences in morningness-eveningness preference. Chronobiology International, 19(4), 709–720.

Åkerstedt T., & Nilsson P. M. (2003). Sleep as restitution: an introduction. Journal of Internal Medicine, 254(1), 6–12. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2796.2003.01195.x

Bittman, M., & Wajcman, J. (2000). The Rush Hour: The Character of Leisure Time and Gender Equity. Social Forces, 79(1), 165–189. https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/79.1.165

BIXLER, E. O., PAPALIAGA, M. N., VGONTZAS, A. N., LIN, H.-M., PEJOVIC, S., KARATARAKI, M., … CHROUSOS, G. P. (2009b). Women sleep objectively better than men and the sleep of young women is more resilient to external stressors: effects of age and menopause. Journal of Sleep Research, 18(2), 221–228. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00713.x

Burgard, S. A., & Ailshire, J. A. (2013a). Gender and Time for Sleep among U.S. Adults. American Sociological Review, 78(1), 51–69. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122412472048

Burgard, S. A., & Ailshire, J. A. (2013b). Gender and Time for Sleep among U.S. Adults. American Sociological Review, 78(1), 51–69. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122412472048

Burgard, S. A., & Ailshire, J. A. (2013c). Gender and Time for Sleep among U.S. Adults. American Sociological Review, 78(1), 51–69. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122412472048

Duffy, J. F., Cain, S. W., Chang, A.-M., Phillips, A. J. K., Münch, M. Y., Gronfier, C., … Czeisler, C. A. (2011). Sex difference in the near-24-hour intrinsic period of the human circadian timing system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(Supplement 3), 15602–15608. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1010666108

Ferrie, J. E., Shipley, M. J., Cappuccio, F. P., Brunner, E., Miller, M. A., Kumari, M., & Marmot, M. G. (2007). A Prospective Study of Change in Sleep Duration: Associations with Mortality in the Whitehall II Cohort. Sleep, 30(12), 1659–1666.

Huang, T., Lin, B. M., Markt, S. C., Stampfer, M. J., Laden, F., Hu, F. B., … Redline, S. (2018). Sex differences in the associations of obstructive sleep apnoea with epidemiological factors. The European Respiratory Journal, 51(3). https://doi.org/10.1183/13993003.02421-2017

Krishnan, V., & Collop, N. A. (2006). Gender differences in sleep disorders. Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine, 12(6), 383–389. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.mcp.0000245705.69440.6a

Meadows Robert, Arber Sara, Venn Susan, & Hislop Jenny. (2008a). Engaging with sleep: male definitions, understandings and attitudes. Sociology of Health & Illness, 30(5), 696–710. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2008.01088.x

Meadows Robert, Arber Sara, Venn Susan, & Hislop Jenny. (2008b). Engaging with sleep: male definitions, understandings and attitudes. Sociology of Health & Illness, 30(5), 696–710. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2008.01088.x

Ming, X., Radhakrishnan, V., Kang, L., & Pecor, K. (2016). Gender, Headaches, and Sleep Health in High School Students. Journal of Women’s Health, 25(9), 930–935. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2015.5681

Pejovic, S., Basta, M., Vgontzas, A. N., Kritikou, I., Shaffer, M. L., Tsaoussoglou, M., … Chrousos, G. P. (2013). Effects of recovery sleep after one work week of mild sleep restriction on interleukin-6 and cortisol secretion and daytime sleepiness and performance. American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, 305(7), E890–E896. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00301.2013

Zhang, B., & Wing, Y.-K. (2006). Sex differences in insomnia: a meta-analysis. Sleep, 29(1), 85–93.

Author: Inka Immonen

Science blogger, yoga teacher, biohacker and a psychology student at the University of Aberdeen; upgrading mind and body health with fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness

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