It’s time to separate the myth from the truth
Despite the fact we all have sleep in common, there are still many curiosities and misconceptions surrounding it. From dreams and sleepwalking to sleep cycles and sleep hormones, sleep can be a lot more complicated than simply putting your head on the pillow and closing your eyes.
And one of the most widely studied areas of sleep is how other factors affect this core human requirement – including diet, lifestyle habits and even a person’s sex. Many people believe that women require more sleep than men on a biological level.
In fact, this is such a hotly explored topic that several key studies have looked at the relationship between women and sleep, and how that compares to that of men. We’re going to take a look at what these studies found, as well as exploring some of the common sleep concerns facing women today.
Studies have suggested that women may need more sleep
Research suggests that, on average, women require around twenty minutes more sleep than men. And while it is widely accepted that there are a number of factors at play, the evidence does hint at women spending more time asleep each night. According to one 2008 study by Duke University, women who reported unhealthy sleep experienced greater levels of psychological stress than men, elevating their risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and mood disorders.
According to Loughborough University Sleep Professor Jim Horne the reason women would benefit from twenty minutes more sleep is because, on average, women use their brains more actively than men, and engage in more multitasking.
“The more of your brain you use during the day, the more of it that needs to recover and, consequently, the more sleep you need.”
Why is this important? Because it suggests that the reasons women may require more sleep are likely due to nurture, not nature. Rather than women being born with an innate need to sleep more, it is the increased pressures and demands many women face – such as juggling childcare and a career at once, leading to elevated levels of exhaustion.
Sleep concerns for women
Many people of all genders suffer from sleep problems like insomnia and sleep apnoea, but there are certain circumstances which impact women that can lead to disruptions when it comes to sleep.
For example, pregnancy can result in sleep problems that go on to last for months, such as discomfort as a result of changes to the body. Likewise, menopause can also result in aches, pains, discomfort and temperature changes, all of which can make good sleep more difficult to achieve.
When we worry, our sleep tends to suffer, and the NHS reports that women are up to twice as likely as men to experience significant levels of anxiety. This can create a vicious cycle in which worries cause a lack of sleep which in turn causes greater feelings of anxiety.
How to improve your sleep quality
Developing and keeping a regular sleep/wake cycle is key to good sleep health. Aim to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. A relaxing bedtime ritual can help your body unwind in the run up to sleep, so try to avoid using your smartphone for around an hour before bed, and instead engage in reading, gentle stretches or meditation. It’s also important to stay active throughout the day, so a period of exercise in the morning or afternoon is also recommended.