Why a Woman’s Sleep Is Different From a Man’s

 

HuffPost Women


Clinical psychologist, board certified sleep specialist
June 13, 2011

Sleep problems are epidemic among women today. An astonishing three-fourths of all women in the U.S. have sleep problems at least some nights. And almost half of women usually awaken feeling tired or groggy.

Sleep problems can take many forms and can involve too little sleep, too much sleep or inadequate quality of sleep. While millions of women admit they are tired, most cannot tell you how their exhaustion affects every aspect of their health — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In my clinical practice, I treat hundreds of women who come to me with sleep complaints such as:

  • Not being able to turn off their minds when they get into bed
  • Having night sweats that cause them to sleep restlessly
  • Waking up at 3:00 a.m. and then feeling exhausted all day long
  • Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep
  • Waking up frequently throughout the night
  • Jolting out of bed after too few hours of sleep and being unable to return to sleep
  • Having a snoring bed partner that keeps them up
  • Having anxiety or fears about falling asleep
  • Having a fear of driving long distances because of sleepiness or fatigue

Maybe you think you’re exhausted and irritable because your kids wear you down. Or you may think low energy and an inability to focus are attributed to aging, depression, or a low-calorie diet. Quite honestly, some women tell me they’ve always felt “awful,” so sleep problems go undiagnosed and untreated for years — even a lifetime.

Women’s Sleep Is Just Different Than Men’s

The fact is — women are not like men when it comes to sleep. There are major physiological sleep-related distinctions in women and men, like:

  • Starting at birth, females have more slow-wave sleep than males. Slow-wave sleep, which occurs during stage 3 and 4 sleep, is the deepest, most refreshing, wake-up-and-feel-great sleep.
  • Girls tend to wake up during the night less frequently than boys.
  • Women continue to have significant deep sleep well into their 30s while men’s deep sleep begins to decline in their 20s.
  • Women’s sleep systems appear to age more slowly than men’s.

But wait — these differences make it seem like women should, on the whole, sleep better than men. So, why do women have more problems sleeping? There are two primary reasons: hormones and aging.

Hormones Wreaking Havoc
Women have more sleep disruptions during the premenstrual and menstrual time of the month — including difficulty getting to sleep, nighttime awakenings, sleep disturbances, and vivid dreams. Why do these sleep disruptions occur? Hormones. While the hormone estrogen, which is present in both sexes but more abundant in women, increases rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the female hormone progesterone, which rises mid cycle after ovulation, causes feelings of fatigue or drowsiness. When menstruation begins and progesterone levels begin to fall, women have greater difficulties falling asleep and often experience poor sleep quality for a few days. As the woman’s cycle begins again, normal sleep (if not good sleep) usually returns. Other factors affecting women:

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.