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Unsure about Gender Differences? Try sleeping on it…

What is going on with women and sleep? Why do we rarely experience a good night of it? Why are we almost twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men? And always complain about being easily disturbed, woken by snoring or often being tired? There is now scientific evidence to, firstly back up these claims, and secondly, explain why it is.

The study, carried out by McGill University in Canada, explored the levels of sleep hormones within its participants. It put each one through a phase of ‘cat napping’ i.e. forcing them to sleep for an hour and then be awake for an hour. They also measured their levels of alertness and sleepiness throughout the duration of the experiment. What they discovered, is that women operate on earlier sleep cycles than men.

Let me explain. Sleep usually happens in about 45 minute cycles, during which time the person will experience a number of different phases of sleep (as per the image below)


What the researchers discovered, is that given similar sleep schedules, their female subjects were earlier in entering their sleep phases than the males. So, if left to their own devices, most women would go to bed earlier than men, and would get up earlier too. The overall rhythms were pretty much the same, but women’s are earlier…or set to a more Easterly time zone.

So, when men and women both go to bed at the same time, in most instances the woman will be about half-way through one of her sleep cycles when she begins trying to get to sleep. This means she won’t be able to get to sleep very quickly, and so will ultimately end up getting less sleep. This is then compounded by the sleep cues in females not being as strong as men’s during the night, thus increasing our chances of waking up periodically.

Interestingly, the study also identified that, if kept awake, women are not as alert as men during the night. This means that working nights takes a greater health toll on females than males, and can make us more prone to accidents and injuries whilst doing them too.

Sweet dreams!