Women need more sleep than men. No, really; no matter how you spin it, research shows that men and women are biologically designed to need different amounts of sleep.
Current research shows that women need an average of twenty to thirty minutes more of sleep each night than men. And while women need more sleep, research also shows that most women aren’t getting the rest they need.
Sleep is essential to a woman’s well being. Understanding why they need more sleep and why many women are missing out one needed rest is paramount.
One of the top reasons women are missing out on sleep is because of multitasking. Women tend to be multitaskers, which means they are more likely to use more of their brains. The more you use your brain during the day leads to a greater need for sleep.
Jim Horne, a lead sleep neuroscientist in the UK, conducted a recent study on the difference between how much sleep men and women need. Hone explained how the more you use your brain the more it needs to recover.
“Women’s brains are wired differently, so their sleep need will be slightly greater. Women tend to multitask, they do lots at once and are flexible and so they use more of their actual brain than men do. However, men who have complex jobs, which involve a lot of decision-making and lateral thinking are also likely to need more sleep than the average male,” Hone stated.
Another difference with women and sleep is how their brains are structured. Women’s brains are designed to be able to rear their children while simultaneously working. This design is what allowed our ancestors to keep their children safe while doing tasks such as cooking or mending.
The design of women’s brains to be able to multitask hasn’t changed. Women are expected to grow babies, birth them, feed them, parent them, run the household, and often work out of the home or have full-time jobs.
The demands of being wife and mother coupled with the demands of having to provide financial support can lead a woman to cut out essential sleep time. The drive to get a few more tasks accomplished can often outweigh the time needed to sleep.
Women also have a harder time shutting down their brains once they do get a chance to begin the process of sleeping. The temptation to continue to multitask even when resting is still there. Many women use their winding down time to check those last few emails or to scroll through social media.
Hormones and Sleep
Another factor contributing to the difference between the amount of sleep men and women need is hormones. Hormones get blamed for a variety of issues ranging from moods to weight and now sleep.
Science shows that hormones really are to be blamed for the lack of sleep women can experience. Women experience strong hormonal fluctuations throughout their monthly cycle. The hormone to blame is the sex hormone, progesterone, tends to rise in the last two weeks of a woman’s monthly cycle. The surge in progesterone creates a demand for energy.
Extra sleep is needed to restore the energy used during hormone fluctuations. Sleep deprivation can lead to negative effects on a woman’s hormonal and neurological health. Adrenal function can be compromised, serotonin production slowed, and yes, lack of sleep can even make PMS symptoms worse.
The stereotypical irritable, grumpy, and emotional feelings that most women suffer from during their monthly period are all signs of sleep deprivation.
Horne found that in women, poor sleep was more likely to lead to high levels of psychological distress and greater feelings of hostility, depression, and anger.
The effects of sleep deprivation and hormones are even greater on mothers who have babies that contribute to a lack of sleep. Most sleep deprivation for mothers begin during pregnancy when sleep is hard due to being uncomfortable from excess pregnancy weight and the position of the baby.
Sleep deprivation continues through infancy when baby wakes up multiple times during the night to feed or be comforted. Sleep deprivation in mothers can lead to an increased risk of postpartum depression, neurological issues, and increased risk for heart problems.
Finding a solution
Many women are often prescribed antidepressants to counter the effects of severe PMS or postpartum depression. Increasing the amount of time you spend sleeping could also help counter the effects from sleep deprivation.
If you are in your child-bearing years, you will need to make a commitment to getting sleep more in the second half of your monthly cycle. The best way to get in more sleep is to go to sleep earlier by twenty minutes or wake up twenty minutes later.
Women also need to make time before bed to relax. Part of getting ready for bed should include switching off your devices and dimming the lights before bed. The blue glow from your electronic devices and the bright lights of your home can inhibit your body’s cues to you that it’s time to sleep.
Women need to be even more careful about sleep during the second half of their cycle as their bodies are less sensitive to the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Plan for an hour of screen free time before falling asleep. Good alternatives are to go for a short walk, take a warm bath or shower, listen to calm music, or read a book (from a real book, not a hand-held device).
Setting yourself up for good sleep can make a world of difference. Research shows that each phase of sleep lasts anywhere from 90 to 110 minutes. Adults, both men and women, need to complete five cycles of sleep each night to function at a healthy level.
Yet most women tend to sleep lighter and get less REM sleep during the half of their sleep cycle close to their monthly period. This leads to less sleep overall, which is another reason to make sleep a priority. Women who can sleep more during the week leading up to their period will feel less irritable and tired.
Women who are post-menopausal tend to have sleep requirements that are more like men’s. Menopause lowers the levels of estrogen, which lessons the amount of energy the body needs to regulate hormones.
Women who are going through menopause aren’t home free with sleep distractions though. Most menopausal women tend to experience trouble sleeping from hot flashes.
Cooler bedding, relaxing from stress, and a good mattress can help overcome the effects hot flashes have on sleep.
How should mothers overcome the effects of sleep deprivation from infants? One way is to alternate the times one parent gets up to take care of the baby. If that’s not possible, then try to sleep when baby sleeps including naps during the day.
Remember that hormones and stress from work or home aren’t the only causes of sleep deprivation in women. If you are worried about your sleep patterns, make an appointment today with Alaska Sleep Clinic to rule out any medical causes for your sleep issues.