Men and women are different, and have very different needs. This might be evident to you in many aspects of life, but did you know that this difference applies even when it comes to sleep? Sleep is a time when your mind and body process thoughts, restore or reboot themselves and strengthen the immune system.

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Exactly how these functions happen is still quite a mystery, but sleep experts around the world have confirmed that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every day. However, the same experts also point out that women need more sleep than men during their lifetimes. 

Why is that? The reason lies with how women are wired differently than men, and also how their lifestyle patterns usually are. It is assumed that since women are multitaskers and carry a heavier mental load than men, they need more rest time than men too. On the other hand, women’s bodies also go through hormonal changes and long periods of hormonal imbalance during pregnancy and menopause. This also affects their sleep patterns and demands.

Moreover, women are more at risk of suffering from sleep disorders like insomnia (some women's health conditions also affect sleep, such as PCOS-linked sleep apnea). This is the reason why most experts believe women need at least 20 more minutes of sleep than men do. Here is everything you need to know about why women need more sleep than men.

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  1. Causes for not sleeping enough
  2. Hormones and sleep for women
  3. Sleep disorders among women
  4. Handling sleep deprivation among women
  5. How much more sleep do women need?
  6. Tips to sleep better

A number of biomedical and social scientific studies have shown that women tend to need more sleep than men to recover from their daily activities. According to a study published in the American Sociological Review in 2013, this is probably because women - especially married women with children - spend more time than men doing unpaid work in and around their homes, even when they have jobs.

Women also tend to have less quality leisure time than men due to being overworked or because they prioritize family needs over their sleep and leisure times. This also suggests that they tend to get less, high-quality uninterrupted sleep. Since sleep is vital for survival and mental as well as physical well-being, this lack of good sleep affects women’s health adversely, without their realising the effect it’s having on them in the long term.

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You might take it for granted that women menstruate once a month, but there are two changes associated with menstruation that affect a woman’s sleeping pattern:

  • The body goes through hormonal changes before and during menstruation, which leads to premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
  • Menstruation usually involves pain, discomfort and many women also fear staining while sleeping. 

Both these scenarios affect how women sleep, and there’s at least a week every month when women experience disrupted or low-quality sleep due to menstruation. This apart, women also experience huge hormonal changes during pregnancy, when hormones like estrogen are at an all-time peak. Prolactin levels, which helps women lactate and breastfeed their babies, also shoot up, and continue to be high after delivery and until the woman stops breastfeeding.

Menopause is another stage of life marked by significant hormonal changes. Estrogen naturally peters out at this point and women stop menstruating. Weight gain is also quite natural during this time. Whether hormonal changes occur during menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding or menopause, women’s sleep patterns and quality are naturally and negatively affected by them.

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While sleep disorders affect both men and women, there are a few sleep-related problems women are more at risk of. Women have higher incidences of insomnia, which is basically the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Older women have a greater risk of developing sleep apnea. Restless leg syndrome is an issue that might show up in women during their menstrual cycle, pregnancy or during the breastfeeding period. This is a sleep-disrupting issue that can worsen with age as well.

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Women tend to have a more difficult time dealing with insufficient sleep, although it can lead to cardiovascular issues and diabetes in both men and women. When sleep-deprived, women have been shown to be more angry, irritable, depressed or hostile compared with men. Hence, sleep deprivation tends to affect women’s behaviour, interpersonal relations and the ability to function much more than it does in men.

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Women need more sleep than men to be able to function according to their optimal ability. Studies have shown that as little as 20 minutes of extra sleep per day can help women cope better. This short but significant period of time helps compensate women for the extra time and labour they put into chores every day.

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To be able to get a good night’s sleep, creating the proper environment and keeping disturbances away is vital. According to the US-based National Sleep Foundation, the following tips can help you get better sleep:

  • Choose a good mattress and sheets for your bed, and keep the bedroom uncluttered.
  • A cool room promotes good sleep, so make sure your bedroom is cool but not freezing.
  • Reduce noises and sources of external stimuli before and during sleep.
  • Dim the lights an hour before sleep to help your body condition itself to sleep times.
  • Maintain the same bedtime and waking up schedule every day, even during weekends and holidays, to maintain your body clock better.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Get enough physical exercise throughout the day to ensure a good night’s sleep.

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  1. Burgard, Sarah A. and Ailshire, Jennifer A. Gender and Time for Sleep among U.S. Adults. Am Sociol Rev. 2013 Feb; 78(1): 51–69. PMID: 25237206
  2. Mallampalli, Monica P. and Carter, Christine L. Exploring Sex and Gender Differences in Sleep Health: A Society for Women's Health Research Report. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2014 Jul 1; 23(7): 553–562. PMID: 24956068
  3. Tamanna, Sadeka and Geraci, Stephen A. Major Sleep Disorders Among Women: (Women's Health Series). South Med J , 106 (8), 470-8. PMID: 23912143
  4. Piedmont Healthcare [Internet]. Atlanta. Georgia. USA; Do women need more sleep than men?.
  5. [Internet]. National Sleep Foundation. Washington D.C. United States; The Difference Between a Man and Woman’s Sleep.
  6. [Internet]. National Sleep Foundation. Washington D.C. United States; Do Women Need More Sleep Than Men?.
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