The average adult needs between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to feel refreshed. However, research suggests that women tend to sleep just a little bit longer — 11 minutes, to be exact — than men.
Why Do Women Need More Sleep Than Men?
There are a number of reasons why women may need more sleep than men. Women are 40 percent more likely to have insomnia than men. Women are also nearly twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as men, two conditions strongly associated with insomnia. Individuals with insomnia have difficulty falling or staying asleep on a regular basis, and suffer from sleepiness during the day.
Hormones are another culprit behind women’s greater need for sleep than men. Our sleep-wake cycles are ruled by our hormones. These hormones affect when we feel tired, when we feel alert, when we feel hungry, and much more. Women experience hormonal changes each month and over the course of their lifetimes, which impact their circadian rhythms and create a greater need for sleep. For example:
- During menstruation, one-third of women have trouble sleeping due to cramps, headaches, and bloating. They report higher levels of daytime sleepiness, tiredness, and fatigue.
- During pregnancy, women may develop restless legs syndrome, a condition that makes it harder to fall asleep. They’re also more likely to experience depression, sleep apnea, pain, and incontinence which disrupt their sleep. These sleep issues can persist into the postpartum period, when their hormone levels drop at the same time they start taking care of a newborn with an irregular sleep cycle — often resulting in even more daytime sleepiness.
- During menopause, up to 85 percent of women experience hot flashes. When these occur at night, women wake up in a sweat, thereby disrupting their sleep. Women’s risk of developing sleep apnea also increases during menopause. This sleep disorder causes pauses in breathing that can interfere with the quality of one’s sleep, even if the person doesn’t wake up. As a result, women with sleep apnea may feel less refreshed upon waking up and experience tiredness and excessive sleepiness during the day.
Do Women Actually Sleep More Than Men?
While research tells us that women need more sleep than men, it’s also the case that women tend to sleep slightly longer than men — by just over 11 minutes.
The bad news, however, is that women’s sleep may be lower quality than men’s, perhaps due to differences in how they spend their day. Researchers have documented differences in the amount of time women and men dedicate to paid and unpaid labor, work and social responsibilities, and family caregiving. For example, women are more likely than men to wake up to take care of others in the home, a task which disrupts their sleep.
Both men and women with children enjoy slightly more sleep than their childless counterparts, independent of marital status. However, women are more likely to nap during the day, which suggests their longer total sleep time may be misleading, since some of it takes place during the day. Naps add to a person’s total sleep time, but they also make nighttime sleep less restful.
Sleep works best when you sleep uninterrupted throughout the night. During a full night’s sleep, you cycle through the various stages of sleep several times a night — from light sleep to deep sleep to REM sleep and back again. With each subsequent stage of sleep, you spend more time in REM sleep, a time for dreaming and cognitive processing, and less time in deep sleep, a time where your body physically repairs itself. When that sleep is interrupted, you start the cycle over again — causing you to miss out on essential REM sleep.
Multiple studies have found that women fall asleep faster than men. This may suggest they have a greater need for sleep; it could also suggest they are simply more tired on average. Studies show women also spend more time in deep sleep than men. Although that changes in menopause, when women take longer to fall asleep and spend less time in deep sleep than men.
Do You Need More Sleep?
Regardless of which gender needs more sleep, the reality is too many women and men don’t get enough sleep, no matter their age. According to the CDC, only 64.5 percent of men and 65.2 percent of women actually sleep at least 7 hours per night on a regular basis. The numbers are even worse among high school students, especially young women. 71.3 percent of female students regularly miss out on good sleep, compared with only 66.4 percent of their male counterparts.
The best way to know if you’re getting enough sleep is whether you feel refreshed and restored when you wake up. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try getting regular exercise, setting routine bed and wake times, limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake, and improving your sleep environment. Develop a bedtime routine that calms down your mind and body before sleep. If your insomnia persists, talk to your doctor to determine other steps you can take to improve your sleep.
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