Gender differences and sleep

Women and men think differently. This fact is well-established. What is less well-known is that men and women have different sleep needs and react differently to sleep-deprivation.

Let’s look at some research regarding these statements.

  1. Women need more sleep than men the same age.

The theory behind this is that women use more areas of their brains during the day thanks to multi-tasking and interpreting complex socio-emotional information. A female brain is a busy brain and as such requires longer to repair and recover- an average of 20 minutes longer each night than a man according to the National Sleep Foundation.

  1. The female brain ages more slowly than the male brain.

Interestingly, it is thought that this added brain utilization and need for sleep is responsible for a women’s brain ageing slower than a man’s. ‘A typical 75-year-old woman has a comparable brain age to a 70-year-old man,’ Professor Horne a specialist in the area of Gynaecology and Reproductive Health from The University of Edinburgh.

  1. Sleep-deprived women perform worse than sleep-deprived men.

The female brain is more sensitive to sleep-deprivation. The female hormonal cycle is also thrown off by lack of sleep. The combination of both neurological and hormonal impairment due to lack of sleep means that a sleep-deprived woman will function worse than a man. In the short-term, women will show more difficulty with attention, working memory, long-term memory and decision-making.

In the long-term, women are more at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer than men reports Dr Edward Suarez.

Over the month of August we will be looking closer at the issue of women and sleep. Arianna Huffington has declared women’s sleep ‘the next feminist issue‘, arguing that a lack of sleep affects a woman’s judgment, creativity and ability to realise their full potential.

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