Over a period of 10 days 18 women and 16 men were subjected to 19 hours of waking time and another 9 hours of sleep.
Sounds like quite a lot of sleep right?
For the purpose of the study, this meant that each cycle was 28 hours – where a regular sleep-wake cycle is 24 hours.
The outcome? The study reported that on average the women that took part had significantly more trouble when performing cognitive tasks (tasks involving working memory, attention and focus, auditory/visual processing etc.) in comparison to the men.
What does the research show?
Well, let’s look at the background of sleep studies. The truth is as of the 21st century, many aspects of sleep or a lack there of are still a mystery to the hard sciences.
But this does not necessarily mean that studies have not lead to some important findings. What we’ve found looking through many sleep studies and online resources, is that it is hard to pinpoint the cause and effect relationship of sleep deprivation
What many of the early studies have shown us is that the participants in sleep studies were usually men.
Apparently the reason for this is that the symptoms of and reporting for sleep deprivation was often men – so this was where these studies went as a starting point.
Sleep apnoea was one of the earliest diagnosed sleep deprivation disorders and that was found to occur in men at a high rate (although, the lack of women featured in these studies would obviously affect this conclusion).
Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone
A common misconception about these hormones is that Estrogen and Progesterone = Female, while Testosterone = Men. While that’s not completely false the reality is simply that the former hormones occur at a higher rate in females and testosterone a higher rate in males.
Naturally, this leads to many widely known differences between the two sexes. Quality of sleep is now considered to be one of the many things that is significantly affected by these hormones; because of some highly noteworthy observations:
Evidence has shown women have more trouble getting to sleep during their menstrual period.
There’s been a consistently higher rate of sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnoea and insomnia during puberty and pregnancy.
One article simply says “The frequency and regularity of hormonal changes women experience could mean they face sleeping challenges more often than men”
While not scientific surveys hold weight in that they are more subjective. The data found in some of these surveys shows us the difference between women and men on this subject.
Now although these were surveys and may lean towards a certain bias, studies have shown that there is some scientific basis which correlates with the results shown in the surveys.
While the majority of reports have implied that men are “more than twice as likely to diagnosed in youth or middle age with obstructive sleep [disorders]:
“2 out of 3 women surveyed had experienced sleep problems a few times a week in the past month” – according to one survey.
Propeller Insights, (on behalf of Sleepcycle.com) has conducted multiple surveys on this particular topic. One of their surveys from 2018 produced some interesting findings. They found that women suffer more than men when it comes to sleep deprivation and could link it to specific factors: on average they found women reported getting more screen time before bed than men.
93%…of over 1000 people reported their day was affected by a lack of sleep.
49% of women answered “I look worse” compared to 32% of men
36% said they felt “physically ill” in comparison to 26% of men
29% of women felt they cannot perform well at work with a lack of sleep, compared to 27% of men.
There has been evidence to suggest an increased appetite can be directly linked to sleep deprivation. Research has shown sleep –deprived women are more likely than sleep deprived men, to be overweight.
This has also been accurately depicted in the aforementioned Propeller Insights survey:
- 42% of women polled were “more likely to confuse fatigue with hunger” compared to 32% of men
- 69% suggest their choices were directed by poor sleep, 63% of men said the same
- 29% were more likely to eat junk food – 22% for men
In reality, the results of these surveys are not so much shocking as they are revealing what the research studies have been showing. Alongside weight gain and sub-optimal diet choices linked to sleep deprivation, reports also link other health problems increasing in women for the same reasons:
Sleep Apnoea –
Research shows the signs for sleep apnoea often appear during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep – in men. This is partially why it is missed in women. It was found to be “non-stage” specific in women, and at its worst, can lead to heart failure or even death more frequently in women, as shown in a 2015 study.
Women who’ve reported restlessness throughout the night are more likely to have higher C-reactive protein levels, which is a marker of high blood pressure.
Type 2 diabetes –
Sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of Type 2 diabetes in both women and men, although for women it is reported that they are more susceptible to higher levels of insulin.
Higher instances of depression and mood disorders in sleep deprived women than men.
More light is being shed on sleep deprivation every day and with each new study. The good thing is that these studies are now taking gender into consideration and more so as a defining feature rather than an afterthought.
The current research has done enough to show that hormones such as estrogen and testosterone levels affect the way we react to poor sleep. This is highly informative, considering the role hormones play when it comes to our sleep cycle and circadian rhythm in the form of melatonin and cortisol.
With more research and surveys, more will be done to address the differences in sleep patterns and problems between men and women allowing more tailored treatments rather than blanket diagnoses and solutions.