The quantity and quality of your night's sleep is determined by countless factors. Caffeine and alcohol intake, physical activity level and workout duration, and consistency of wake and sleep times are just a few of the many factors that influence sleep quality and duration . We have the perfect mattress for your needs. But have you ever thought that your sleep problems may be caused by certain physical conditions that you have no control over?
For example, to what extent do sex and gender influence sleep quantity, quality, and even clinical sleep disorders? Are there unavoidable differences in sleep between men and women? These questions will be answered first.
Are there differences in sleep between men and women?
In general, yes. Men and women exhibit differences in several parameters of sleep, due in part to major life stages characterized by hormonal fluctuations. “Gender differences in sleep become even more apparent after adolescence, as menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause can change sleep architecture,” explains behavioral sleep expert Carleala Weiss. I am.
But that's not all. Gender-based societal roles and expectations can cause some women to have poorer sleep markers. “Women are more likely to take on the role of caregiver; [perform] It causes a negative impact on household activities, increased anxiety levels, and sleep,” continues Dr. Weiss.
How does sleep differ between men and women?
According to Dr. Weiss, research shows that there are significant trends in sleep parameters when comparing male and female populations, including:
When it comes to major hormonal changes, women's sleep can be negatively affected in the following life stages: Here's what it is and why:
According to Dr. Weiss, increased progesterone during ovulation and the luteal phase increases the likelihood of sleep disorders (including insomnia) primarily due to increased core body temperature.
“Anatomical and physiological changes affect sleep,” says Dr. Weiss. She says pregnancy is likely to cause many of these changes, which can include increased core body temperature, lower back pain, gastroesophageal reflux disease, morning sickness, and overall discomfort. . Additionally, a 2016 review published in the Pakistan Medical Journal noted that many sleep-related problems are common during pregnancy, including insomnia, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, and nocturia. doing.
“Hot flashes and mood swings are classic menopausal symptoms caused by hormonal changes that impair sleep,” Dr. Weiss explains. Increased incidence of obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia are also associated with this life stage, she added.
Second, women are more likely to engage in unpaid work such as caring for family members and doing housework, which can strain daytime energy levels, exacerbate stress, and cause sleep disturbances.
“The invisible work that women do impacts their mental health, ultimately increasing their risk of insomnia, anxiety, and poor sleep quality,” says Dr. Weiss. For example, a 2016 review published in Current Sleep Medicine Reports found that up to 76 percent of caregivers reported poor sleep quality, characterized by short sleep duration and frequent night awakenings; men report more disturbed sleep quality than men.
Despite time constraints and greater obligations in these cases, a 2013 article published in the American Sociological Review noted that women tend to log more sleep than men. I am. According to Piedmont Healthcare, research shows this extra sleep time, about 11 to 20 minutes, may help support women's brain health and promote recovery.
Does sex or gender always affect sleep quality?
Again, there are many factors that influence how well you get a good night's sleep, including your diet, physical activity, stress levels, and overall health.
Research has shown some important differences between the quantity and quality of sleep between men and women, but such findings and trends are not necessarily set in stone. Regardless of gender, age can also contribute to sleep parameters.
A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found the following trends:
- Women under 40 recorded higher sleep duration and sleep efficiency than women over 40 and men under 40. They also experienced the best sleep quality across all age and gender groups.
- Men under 40 years of age had significantly shorter sleep duration and nocturnal awakenings, as well as lower sleep efficiency than men over 40 years of age.
- Older men and women showed no noticeable differences in sleep, “suggesting that sex hormones influence sleep.”
Additionally, sleep science is constantly evolving and new findings are being uncovered. This is a good thing, especially since gender-specific research is relatively new in this field.
“Historically, there has been limited evidence on gender-based sleep disorders that examines menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, lactation, and menopause,” says Dr. Weiss. “Science is primarily led by men, and these topics needed to be explored in greater depth.” Over the past decade or so, research has included more women, both as researchers and research participants. Now you can.
“For example, studies on insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea include women, and we look at changes in the menstrual cycle,” she continues. (For example, obstructive sleep apnea has long been considered a male-specific sleep disorder. However, a 2013 study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (We found that half of women have obstructive sleep apnea.) Behavioral and brain changes during postpartum and menopause,” Dr. Weiss added.
Additionally, sleep research on transgender and non-binary (TGNB) individuals is still in its infancy. However, a 2023 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that TGNB youth (ages 12 to 25) were 5.4 times more likely to experience insomnia compared to cisgender youth, and their sleep They were found to be three times more likely to develop hourly apnea or other sleep disorders. A 2020 study published in the journal Transgender Health found that mental health issues, gender identity issues, and concerns about gender reassignment surgery and hormonal interventions also had a negative impact on sleep across 40 TGNB adults interviewed. It was causing a problem.
In summary, hormonal fluctuations and, as a result, age may be the main contributors to gender differences in sleep. Socially entrenched gender roles (such as caregiving and domestic work) more commonly place a heavier burden on women's shoulders, which can also exacerbate daytime fatigue, stress, and sleep problems.
All things considered, most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. The range of these needs may vary depending on age, health, and sleep disorders. If you can't log this amount of sleep without waking up too often or disrupting your sleep cycle, talk to your doctor.
Regardless of whether your sleep problems are due to sex, gender, or other factors, everyone needs adequate sleep to stay healthy every night of the year.
Dr. Carleara Weiss is an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Sleep Research Association and participates in professional development workshops, research, and educational training.