Skip to main content

You now have a reason to hit snooze, thanks to science. We all know that we are supposed to be getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but research has revealed that women have their own unique needs when it comes to getting enough sleep. Not only do women need more sleep than men, but we are also affected differently when we lack a good night’s rest.

The National Sleep Foundation found that women are more likely than men to experience insomnia, more likely to experience it multiple nights a week, more likely to report daytime sleepiness, and more likely to report nighttime pain such as headaches, heartburn, and arthritis than men. Based on these symptoms alone, getting adequate sleep despite your busy schedule should always be a top priority for your health and wellbeing.

You can’t multitask when it comes to rest.

The National Sleep Foundation notes that women need at least 20 more minutes of sleep than men. Researchers theorize that, since women are natural multitaskers, they use more of their brain during the day and require more sleep to give it a chance to clean itself and recuperate. 

John Peever, director of the Systems Neurobiology Laboratory at the University of Toronto, and Brian J. Murray, director of the sleep laboratory at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, tell Scientific American, “Sleep serves to reenergize the body’s cells, clear waste from the brain, and support learning and memory. It even plays vital roles in regulating mood, appetite, and libido.” So give your brain a break and get some rest!

Poor sleep really can mean poor health.

Loughborough University’s research on sleep found that sleep loss primarily affects the brain’s executive functioning because the prefrontal cortex works the hardest when awake. And a study published in the Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Journal found that women are twice as likely as men to report sleep problems. The study also found that poor sleep correlated with increased symptoms related to cardiovascular disease, but only for women.

Women reported overall poorer sleep quality and more frequent difficulty falling asleep. This poor sleep quality was linked to increased psychological distress and greater levels of hostility, depression, and anger in women. The Duke University Medical Center study found that poor sleep quality had physical effects for women including elevated risk of heart disease, increased inflammation, and increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Anxiety rears its ugly head. 

The National Sleep Foundation suggests that discomfort resulting from pregnancy, menopause, and worry might contribute to poor sleep. On the other hand, the Duke University Medical Center researchers believe these gender differences are due to differences in naturally occurring substances in the body.

Though more research needs to be conducted, it is likely a combination of biological and environmental stressors. With women being twice as likely to experience anxiety than men, it’s not a stretch to say that being anxious makes it harder to achieve better sleep. Worries about work, family, children, and relationships can make falling and staying asleep a challenge.

When exhaustion is 'cool,’ we’ve got a problem. 

There is also the cultural association that being sleep-deprived is a sign of how busy and important we are. Arianna Huffington, author of the New York Times bestseller The Sleep Revolution, shared in her TEDTalk how she was having dinner with a man who was bragging that he had only gotten four hours of sleep the night before. “I felt like saying to him, ‘You know what? If you had gotten five, this dinner would have been a lot more interesting.’” Her observation is quite true for many of us. There is a culture of one-upmanship when it comes to being sleep deprived. This sends the message that not taking care of yourself is the path to success.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Loughborough University’s research found that sleep loss can lead to rigid thinking, reduced verbal fluency, impaired working memory, inability to deal with the unexpected, and less inhibited social behavior. Those don’t exactly make the case for embracing sleep deprivation as “cool.”

Gendered sleep research is in its early stages, and more in-depth research must be done. But this is a sign that science is moving in the right direction. The more we know about the unique needs of women when it comes to sleep, the better we can achieve quality sleep and the better we are able to lead healthier and fuller lives. The next time you wake up feeling tired, take it as a sign that you need more sleep. And prioritize being at your best, one night at a time.

Photo Credit: Regina Leah