Why Women Don’t Sleep as Well as Men

This International Women’s Day, we explore the complicated relationship women have with sleep.

Did you know that despite objectively sleeping better due to an increased slow-wave sleep (SWS) — the deepest phase of non-rapid eye movement sleep — women are still at a higher risk of sleep disturbance compared to men?

When it comes to sleep disturbances, biological conditions and psychosocial factors all come into play. But first, let’s talk about the circadian rhythm, an internal biological process that regulates sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.

According to the U.S. National Sleep Foundation, research has shown that women and men have different circadian rhythms. Female circadian cycles tend to be earlier and run shorter by an average of 6 minutes than males, resulting in an increased risk of developing insomnia, or even Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).

Menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and post-menopause can also lower sleep quality by disturbing regular sleep patterns. Many post-menopausal women, for example, experience sleep apnea, which can leave them groggy and exhausted.

This vicious cycle of not having enough good sleep, coupled with stress from work or home, only further impacts women’s sleep health. As more middle-aged women than men are caregivers, they’re more likely to report stress, depression, and sleep disturbances. Anxiety and worry spikes at night as well — unable to fall asleep, a quarter of the women surveyed lie awake in bed thinking about their to-do list.

Though we can’t change these biological conditions, we can always practise good sleeping and lifestyle habits to improve our circadian rhythms. Maximise your sleep with these nifty tips:

1) Limit screen time before sleep time

We know it’s hard to put down the phone, but artificial blue light from electronic devices can suppress the body’s melatonin release. Instead of reaching out for your phone, try reading a book or doing some light stretches.

2) Stick to a regular sleep schedule

This sounds easy, but it’s tricky, especially when it includes not sleeping in over the weekend. Going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day allows your body to sync with its natural rhythm and improve its quality of sleep.

3) Create a restful sleep environment

Three words: cool, dark, and quiet. Research has shown that the ideal temperature for sleep lies between 15-19°C. We also like it better when we have our eye masks on and some soothing tunes to fall asleep to.

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