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Why Do Women Need More Sleep Than Men?

Lara Vargas

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One of the main functions of sleep is to heal the body and brain from the previous day. As it turns out, people—especially women—who use a lot of cognitive thinking (thought used to process and comprehend the best action for a situation) throughout their day need more sleep to recover than others. According to Nagamalar Raju, MD, women’s brains are more complex because they are built for cognitive thinking and, since women are multi-taskers, their brains work harder during the day.

Jim Horne, MD, the former director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, conducted a study consisting of a sample of 210 men and women and confirmed women need 20 more minutes of extra sleep than men.

While women are proven to need more sleep, the question is why? In this article, we will discuss the reasons why women need more sleep and how they can improve the length and quality of their sleep.

Women Think Differently

Women’s brains are wired to think analytically and intuitively, making women more suited to multi-tasking. As a result, their brains don’t slow down very much, which can make going to sleep difficult.

Busy Schedules

On average, women have busier schedules than men.

Women comprise 47 percent of the US labor force and, of those women, 73 percent work full time. Additionally, 43.5 million women between the ages of 15 and 50 have children. Providing meals, taking care of household duties, and spending time with children takes a lot of time out of the day—adding a day job on top is even more exhausting.

Hormonal Changes

Women’s bodies are subjected to hormonal and chemical changes that cause discomfort and pain. Fluctuating hormones can result in cramping, lower back pain, psychological distress, hot flashes, sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, and other sleep problems.

Not Enough Sleep

Since most women have more demanding schedules, they aren’t getting the rest they need. Mothers with small children get an average of 5 to 6 hours of sleep due to the demands of raising a child. Mothers often have to sync their sleep patterns with their children’s naps and bedtimes to get enough sleep hours.

Poor sleep can also cause weight gain and obesity. When we stress, higher amounts of cortisol (a hormone) are released, which drives us to eat bigger portion sizes and leads to weight gain.

How Sleep Deprivation Affects Complex Jobs

Dr. Jim Horne’s study didn’t just determine women need more sleep. It clearly revealed those with complex jobs requiring higher levels of cognitive thinking and decision making (think airline pilots, surgeons, police officers, and intelligence analysts) need more rest.

If you don’t get enough sleep, your efficiency and productivity at work can decrease. Clinical psychologist and sleep expert Michael J. Breus, PhD., stated sleep deprivation negatively affects cognitive functioning. If you don’t get enough sleep, your ability to focus, remember important details, make decisions, and innovate plummets, which can hinder job performance.

What Does It Mean To Get Good Sleep?

Even if you get the right amount of sleep—7 to 9 hours for an adult—you can still be tired if you don’t spend enough time in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

When you sleep, you go through several sleep cycles, including three stages of NREM sleep and REM sleep.

  • The first stage of NREM sleep takes place a few minutes after you fall asleep and lasts for five to ten minutes. Physically, your eye movements and breathing will slow, and your body will become relaxed—this is the lightest form of sleep as you can regain consciousness from quiet noises, movement, and bright lights.
  • During the second stage of NREM, you are harder to wake, although you can wake up from loud noises. In this stage, your brain waves become slower, suspending external awareness and prompting the brain’s restorative processes.
  • In the third stage of NREM sleep, your muscles are inactive, and you won’t respond to any stimulants, which makes it harder to wake you up.
  • The final stage of sleep is known as REM. REM sleep should account for 20 percent of your sleep time. During REM sleep, your body will repair damaged tissue, and your brain will recover and store information from the previous day. You will want to reach REM sleep to get quality rest.

When you wake up, you should feel refreshed and ready for the day. If you do not wake up feeling invigorated, your sleep quality is lacking and you most likely aren’t reaching REM sleep or spending enough time in that stage.

How to Get Better Sleep

If you find your quality of sleep lacking, you can try some of our tips to get good sleep.

  • Dr. Raju suggests women should consider developing a regular sleep and wake pattern and creating a relaxing bedtime routine to make their sleep better.
  • Put your children on a sleep schedule, so you have time to get household chores done and relax before turning in for the night.
  • When you go to sleep, your body temperature naturally drops and increases melatonin production, which makes you tired. Taking a warm bath or drinking tea will raise your body temperature before going to bed. In response, your body will decrease its temperature to maintain homeostasis, prompting your body to release melatonin and priming you for an easy transition into sleep.
  • Keep a sleep journal. If you have any undiagnosed sleep disorders, keeping a consistent sleep journal will help a doctor pinpoint the issue.
  • Exercise during the morning instead of at night. People who exercise in the morning have more energy for the day’s activities. If you exercise too close to bedtime, it can interfere with your sleep by raising your heart rate and tensing muscles, which isn’t conducive for restful sleep. If you cannot exercise in the mornings, we suggest avoiding exercise a couple of hours before bed to give your body time to relax.
  • Daily exercise improves sleep quality and sleep duration.
  • Change your sleep environment to meet your sleep needs. Look around your bedroom; if it is messy, it could interfere with your sleep. You may also consider upgrading to the best mattress and bedding for your needs, putting up blackout curtains, and removing any other obstacles interfering with your sleep.

Conclusion

Lack of sleep can disrupt your life by causing you to make mistakes where you usually wouldn’t. Because women often have busier schedules, they require at least 20 more minutes of sleep than the average man. Both men and women with complex jobs need to pay special attention to their sleep habits.

If you need more sleep, place yourself on a strict bedtime routine, and remove any obstacles interfering with your sleep quality.

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