Poor sleep may cause more trouble for women than men

This one’s for the sleepy gals…

For all the ladies out there, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is, you get to tell your partner that you’re right and you do need a lie-in… hello, breakfast in bed! The bad news is this: you need to stay in bed longer because, as a woman, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

In fact, current research by the National Sleep Foundation shows that women need an average of 20 to 30 minutes more sleep every night than men. Yay! But unfortunately, even though we ladies are scientifically proven to need more beauty sleep (sorry), we still aren’t getting enough rest when compared to our male counterparts. Boo.

Do you have trouble sleeping?

I hear ya. As the fairer sex, we tend to have a lot on our plate. We lie awake at night plagued with regrets about the day that’s passed, consumed with plans and anxieties for the day to follow, plus a million other random thoughts and fears that cross our racing mind. Meanwhile, our sleepy partner might be fixated on the brief worry of getting entangled in his boxer shorts… once sorted, he falls straight into an annoyingly deep (and often loud!) slumber.

It can be pretty frustrating, to say the least.

And sometimes no amount of journal writing or meditating or soothing essential oils can help. But what might help is to get into healthier sleep habits, by realising why you need more sleep in the first place.

It’s because women have more complex brains.

It’s true. A study carried out on a sample set of 210 middle-aged men and women revealed that women need at least 20 minutes’ more kip – because our brains work harder during the day. It might sound like a sexist statement but really, we tend to multitask; something menfolk seem to, well, struggle with! It all boils down to how our brains are wired. Our ancestors simply had to multitask; it’s what kept our children safe while we were cooking meat over that big pit. Moms are often hailed as having an almost superhuman sixth sense, an intuition that their child is in danger and needs saving. It goes along the same lines… we’re able to multitask because our mind needs to be focused on several different things at once.

Because of this, we use more of our brains and to a greater intensity. And since sleep is when the cortex gets time to recover, the more we use our brains during the day, the more sleep we need at night.

However, this theory does not strictly focus on women. For instance, men who have quite complex jobs that require a lot of lateral thinking and decision-making – let’s say, engineers – will also need more sleep. But in general, women tend to multitask more than men, meaning we use more of the brain, meaning we need more sleep.

Still not convinced?

This might all seem like a myth to you right now. So if you really want to find out why women need more sleep than men, check out this great article that spells it out in more detail.

I realise that as a women I might be biased. But come on, it makes sense! Us ladies do multitask, we do tend to have busier schedules (especially if we’re holding down a part or full-time job and looking after the kids) and physically we need more rest, thanks to all those hormones jumping up and down on their daily rollercoaster.

But we refuse to get it.

We like to pretend we’re Supermom, and that we can do it all: the cooking, the cleaning, the caring, the scheduling, the pleading and all the demands of our day job. And because of the pressure we put on ourselves (not to mention the guilt we feel if we can’t measure up), our sleep takes a back seat. Our drive to get things done often trumps our need to sleep.

The result? Our very health and our happiness suffer. Because sleep deprivation is linked to all kinds of physical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. In terms of mental health, poor sleep can lead to stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression. And for women, who are more likely to have difficulty with managing their weight, and also more likely to suffer from anxiety, this sleep imbalance can have serious consequences.

We can wind up feeling underslept and irritable, without the energy needed to face the day. We may be more prone to all kinds of bugs and flus going around, thanks to a weakened immune system, and we may get stressed more easily than ever. This is because our adrenal glands, and the cortisol they produce, are impacted in a big way by how we sleep. When we don’t get enough zzzs, the level of cortisol (also known as the ‘stress hormone’) can fluctuate dramatically. So what is normally a handy hormone for helping us get things done – make that deadline, do that workout etc – suddenly makes us anxious about all the little things, like traffic jams or a silly argument at work. We can feel teary and stressed out for seemingly no reason.

But there is a reason.

And no, it’s not always that time of the month! It’s often because we’re suffering from sleep deprivation without even knowing it. And our hormones are letting us pay the price.

So listen up ladies – get to bed early tonight, and all the nights this week. Take care of yourself the way you deserve and start waking up a new, more rested version of you!  

About the Author

Sarah Cummings is the Editor in Chief for Sleep Advisor.


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