Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep every night for good health, regardless of their sex and gender. Sleep is a crucial component of a person’s health and affects every major part of the body from the brain to the immune system.
Multiple research studies have shown that women tend to sleep longer when compared to men. However, there’s no simple explanation for this phenomenon. Instead, a combination of biological and cultural factors may account for these differences in sleep.
Why Do Women Need More Sleep Than Men?
Women and people assigned female at birth may need more sleep, but the nature of the relationship between sex, gender, and sleep is still unclear. Sex refers to biological traits such as anatomy, genetics, and hormones, while gender includes cultural expectations about behavior and characteristics associated with a person’s sex.
Researchers have observed a variety of differences in sleep related to a person’s sex and gender, each of which may be influenced by both their biology and culture.
Women Are More Likely to Have Sleep Problems
Hormonal differences and higher rates of mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, may make women and people assigned female at birth more susceptible to sleep problems and sleep disorders throughout their lives.
Women have a 40% higher chance of insomnia and are more than twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of restless legs syndrome. Women also tend to have higher rates of persistent, chronic insomnia and exhibit more symptoms that impact their day-to-day lives. Such symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, mood disturbances, and trouble focusing.
Women and people assigned female at birth also experience marked hormonal fluctuations and physical changes throughout their lives that can affect how long they sleep and contribute to sleep disruptions. These include hormonal shifts during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Women Have Shorter Circadian Rhythms
Circadian rhythms are biological cycles that serve a wide range of functions in the body. Experts know that certain circadian rhythms affect sleep, yet much of what is known about these cycles is based on research performed predominantly in men.
Emerging research shows that women may have slightly shorter circadian rhythms in their daily cycles of body temperature and the release of melatonin, a hormone that signals the timing of sleep. Researchers believe that these variations in circadian rhythms may contribute to women spending more time asleep and having higher rates of sleep issues.
Gender Expectations Influence Sleep Patterns
Cultural and societal expectations also influence women’s sleep patterns, as well as the higher rates of sleep disorders among women and people assigned female at birth.
Although studies show that women tend to sleep slightly more than men, there’s evidence that women get less undisturbed, quality sleep. In part, this may be due to the fact that women more often act as caregivers, whether to children or to ailing family members. This often means they sacrifice sleep and stay awake later to attend to others’ needs.
Other groups also have unique sleep challenges due to social pressures. For example, transgender and nonbinary people exposed to high levels of discrimination and social stigma are more likely to experience sleep disturbances.
Medications Can Work Differently for Men and Women
Certain prescription medications for sleep problems work differently in women and people assigned female at birth, which may put them at an increased risk of side effects. Research shows that women’s bodies take longer to process two commonly prescribed medications.
- Zolpidem: Women metabolize this drug, frequently prescribed for insomnia, at a slower rate than men. This may be because of lower levels or reduced activity of certain molecules responsible for breaking down this drug in the liver. For this reason, doctors typically prescribe a lower dose of zolpidem to women than to men.
- Modafinil: Modafinil treats the symptoms of narcolepsy, shift work disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea. This medication is metabolized more slowly by women, but may also be affected by the use of hormonal birth control. In fact, taking modafinil may reduce the effectiveness of certain birth control methods.
Anyone taking prescription sleep medications should follow their doctor’s prescribed dosing recommendations and discuss possible interactions between different drugs.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
Do You Actually Need More Sleep?
To learn whether you need more sleep than you’re getting, consider expert guidelines and talk to your doctor. Adults typically need seven or more hours of sleep each night, but people may need more sleep if they are pregnant, sick, or catching up from sleep loss.
Making a few lifestyle changes may help you improve your sleep. Some simple ways to get better sleep include:
- Setting consistent bedtimes and wake times
- Getting daily exposure to sunlight
- Limiting caffeine to earlier in the day
- Avoiding large meals and alcohol close to bedtime
- Finding a relaxing routine to help calm yourself before bed
- Keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and relatively cool
If you think you may be showing signs of a sleep disorder, talk with your doctor or another health care professional. They can help you understand your symptoms, get an accurate diagnosis, and implement a successful treatment plan.