Men are from Mars: gender differences in sleep
Men and women are more equal today than ever before. Women are dominating in the workplace, more men are becoming stay-at-home dads, household chores are everyone’s responsibility and parents around the world are choosing to raise their children in a gender-neutral way.
But how equal are men and women in the bedroom? No, we’re not talking about sex. We’re talking about sleep.
What are the gender differences in sleep?
Biology can be sexist. We may behave similarly, but on a biological level, there are still differences, and these can show up in our sleep quality.
What do men and women have in common when it comes to sleep?
- Both sexes need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Everyone has a circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) that is influenced by things like light exposure and meal timing.
- Both sexes can experience nocturnal emissions, also known as wet dreams or sleep orgasms that are usually connected to sexual dreams. Men will ejaculate during a nocturnal emission, while women will experience wetness. This is quite common during puberty.
- In men and women, sleep deprivation can lead to hormonal imbalances, weight gain, poor appetite, difficulty focusing, poor mental and physical performance, an impaired immune system, mood swings and premature wrinkle formation. Yes, not getting enough sleep will age you faster.
But how do men and women differ when it comes to sleep?
More men snore than women
Even though there are many women who snore, snoring is far more common in men. This is partly due to the fact that men have larger upper airways lower larynxes, which can amplify snoring.
Women produce more HGH
Your body produces human growth hormone (HGH) during sleep, but believe it or not, women produce more than men. You would think that it would be the other way around since men are typically stronger, but higher oestrogen levels (just before ovulation) mean more HGH is produced.
Women have better sleep quality
On average, women have better sleep quality than men. Women tend to fall asleep sooner, sleep for longer and sleep more efficiently.
If you are a man in a relationship with a woman, you and your partner might go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, but she might get a far better sleep score if you both use the same sleep trackers.
Women get tired earlier than men
Women have earlier circadian rhythm timing than men. They generally get tired earlier at night and wake up earlier in the mornings. Men usually start experiencing sleep signals two hours later than women.
Men dream more than women
Women who ovulate regularly get less REM sleep in the weeks before their period, which is when dreaming occurs. That is why men dream more than women on average.
This is not the case for women who are on hormonal birth control or have a condition like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and don’t ovulate.
Women are more likely to have sleep problems
Women are more likely than men to experience sleep problems like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, nighttime pain and excessive sleepiness during the day.
They are also more likely to experience mental health problems like anxiety and depression, which can affect their sleep quality.
Women need more sleep
Women actually need 20 minutes of sleep more than men per night. That’s because their brains tend to work overtime.
It is commonly accepted that women are more likely to multitask than men. The female brain typically expends more mental energy than the male brain. The brain regenerates and processes information during sleep, and female brains often have a little more processing to do.
Between work, maintaining your home, self-care, errands and taking care of your children, pets and/or plants, your to-do list can become quite packed. If you are going to do it all, you will need to get enough sleep. Quality sleep helps you get through long to-do lists. A good night’s sleep can set you up for a very productive day.
Women get more hormonal fluctuations that affect sleep
There is a popular joke that states that most of a woman’s problems start with men, namely menopause, menstruation and mental health struggles. While it may be just a joke, going through menopause, getting your period and dealing with mental health struggles surely is nothing to laugh at. They can also affect the quality of a woman’s sleep.
While men mostly operate on a 24-hour clock, women not only have a circadian rhythm, but also an infradian rhythm.
The infradian rhythm is a woman’s biological clock linked to her menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is broken up into the follicular phase and the luteal phase.
Women will often experience insomnia during the late luteal phase of their menstrual cycles, which is the week before you get your period. This pre-period insomnia can be partly due to fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone. During this time, women are also more likely to experience daytime sleepiness and low energy levels.
Then, when the follicular phase starts, which is the day aunt flo comes to visit, women can get period fatigue.
Sleep deprivation can worsen any PMS symptoms you get around that time of the month, like mood swings and food cravings. During that time of the month, if you get severe period pain, it can also keep you up at night.
Going through menopause can lead to poor quality sleep. Hot flashes that strike at night can wake you up and cause you to toss and turn. A cooler body temperature is important for quality sleep, which can be quite a challenge when you’re going through the big change. Consider investing in a cooling mattress pad. Sleeping on one of these can help your body stay cool even when you get hot flashes.
Many women also opt for hormone replacement therapy, which can reduce some of the menopause symptoms causing sleep problems.
Pregnancy is another phase of life in which women experience sleep problems. Women will often experience insomnia in the first and third trimesters of their pregnancy. Insomnia and restless sleep during pregnancy can be caused by discomfort due to your baby bump, sleeping in the wrong position, heartburn, nausea, hunger and anxiety and depression.
Sleeping with a pregnancy pillow can help women feel more comfortable during sleep.
How to get better sleep
It turns out that men and women aren’t exactly equal in the bedroom when it comes to sleep. The battle of the sexes will not be over for a very long time, especially when biology makes some differences inevitable.
We do recommend the following tips for men and women to get the best possible sleep:
- Avoid blue light exposure from digital screens before bed
- Try to get into a regular bedtime and wake time routine
- Do things that help you relax before bed
- Exercise during the day
- Make your room as dark as possible
As we said, biology can be sexist, but the basic rules of getting good sleep still apply to both sexes.