Men and women do a lot of things differently — and sleep is one of them. On average, women sleep longer and get more quality shut-eye than men.
Yet, more women experience disruptions to their sleeping patterns, with research showing that women are at 40% increased risk for developing insomnia when compared to men. This is likely because lifestyle factors can affect women’s sleep as they age, including hormonal changes, pregnancy, and menopause.
To understand how and why sleep patterns vary between men and women, let’s take a look at the five key differences.
Circadian Rhythms are Different
More men are likely to be night owls, while women tend to be early birds.
We all have a 24-hour body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, but a man’s body clock is slightly longer than a woman’s by around six minutes. As a result, men are able to stay up later, while women tend to sleep and rise early. This is because of differences in male and female hormones.
When it comes to sleep, melatonin plays a prominent role in the sleeping patterns of both genders. But the patterns of melatonin production and release differ slightly between men and women. A woman’s circadian rhythm for melatonin release tends to be timed a bit earlier.
Women Tend to Experience More Sleep Disruptions
Women experience massive hormonal shifts because of menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. These shifts can adversely impact sleep and contribute to insomnia.
Further complicating the issue, motherhood typically results in disrupted sleep for the first few months, or even years, of a child’s life.
But newborn-related sleep disruptions aren’t just unique to women; men also experience them. A 2020 sleep survey conducted by popular mattress retailer Puffy found that young parents, presumably of both genders, suffered the worst sleep patterns since the start of the pandemic. More than 65 percent reported getting less than six hours of sleep every night.
Men also experience age-related hormonal shifts as testosterone decreases and cortisol levels increase. A spike in cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, can cause sleep interruptions, making it tougher for men to achieve deep sleep.
Women Struggle to Cope with Sleep Deprivation
No one can function well if they don’t get sufficient sleep.
“Deep restorative sleep can reduce tension, support the immune system, recover our bodies, and allow us to wake up happy, ready to take on the best of life, as well as tackle the inevitable challenges,” says Puffy CEO Arthur Andreasyan. “The only way you can be the best version of yourself is to have a well-rested mind and body.”
While sleep deprivation isn’t ideal for anyone, a 2018 Sleep Cycle survey found that the effects of sleepless nights hit women harder. The study also found that women are more likely to confuse tiredness with hunger and turn to junk food, whereas men who are sleep deprived either eat less or eat healthy to regain energy.
Men Suffer From Sleep Apnea More Frequently
Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing is involuntarily interrupted when they’re asleep. Men are two times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than women.
One possible reason is the differences in upper airway shapes between men and women. Men tend to have larger upper airway tissue structures, such as the nose, pharynx, and tongue. But other factors also play a major role, including age, race, weight, and genetics.
Poor Sleep Can Impact Women’s Mood
Insufficient sleep can have a negative impact on anyone’s mood. Irritability, anger, depression, and anxiety are all amplified when they rise to the surface after a poor night’s sleep.
But the Puffy sleep survey found that women feel the emotional effects of sleep deprivation more severely than men, with 82 percent of women reporting a correlation between their mood and sleep dissatisfaction.
Sleep and health are inextricably linked for both men and women. Habitual lack of sleep can have a detrimental impact and lead to health conditions.
But Puffy’s Andreasyan maintains it’s possible for people of both genders to overcome negative aspects of their sleep patterns by improving their sleep hygiene, which starts with creating a consistent routine that works for you.
“As well as ensuring my bedroom is designed for optimal sleep, I always follow the same bedtime routine,” he says. “Cleaning clutter from my room, eliminating screen time an hour before bed, and meditation are the main parts of my routine.”
His routine covers some important sleep hygiene habits that are worth adopting. Regardless of your gender, keeping a consistent sleep schedule can help you optimize your circadian rhythm.
Moreover, eliminating screens before bed is essential for a good night’s rest. Exposure to blue light found in phones, tablets, and computers can interfere with your circadian rhythm and prevent you from falling and staying asleep.