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Why Women Need More Sleep Than Men

Carol Sorgen

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Between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disturbance, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

And according to researchers, it's more of a problem for women.

The Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics reports that women are more likely than men to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and they more likely to say they don't feel well rested. That's especially true for single women who have children under the age of 18 living at home.

According to Dr. Victoria Sharma, a California physician affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital who is board-certified in sleep medicine and neurology, most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to function optimally. That can vary from as little as 6 hours to as much as 10 hours, depending on the individual, she says. She sees more women than men suffering from insomnia.

The reasons for women's poor sleep vary. Women's hormones fluctuate throughout their reproductive cycle. Caring for young children who wake often can impact adult sleep cycles. And so can the wiring in a woman's brain, researchers have found.


Hormones play a large part in women's sleep difficulties. Menstrual cycles, for example, can cause painful cramps and mood swings, as well as changes in the hormones that influence sleep. Pregnancy may aggravate sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, increase the need for nighttime bathroom trips, and lead to general discomfort from a growing belly. Perimenopause can result in hot flashes and night sweats that interrupt sleep.

Our Brains

In addition to hormonal disturbances, British researchers at Loughborough University's Sleep Research Center have found that women are more tired than men and need more sleep than men because their brains work differently.

Lead researcher Jim Horne, author of Sleepfaring: A Journey Through The Science of Sleep, told the Daily Mail that because women tend to multi-task, they use more of their brain than men and, as a result, require more sleep.

Internist Ernestine Wright of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore agrees, observing, "On average, women need an additional 20 minutes more than men to regenerate."

Wright adds that poor sleep also affects women more than it does men, resulting in psychological distress, hostility, depression and anger.

The Loughborough study confirmed earlier findings from Duke Medical University in which women were found to be more prone than men to psychological difficulties caused by lack of sleep.

Sleep deprivation can also result in lack of concentration, impaired cognitive function and a greater risk of accidents, says Sharma, adding that chronic sleep deprivation might also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke as well as contribute to obesity.

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Carol Sorgen is a full-time freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She covers a variety of topics including healthcare, lifestyle, travel, aging, the arts, architecture/design, life sciences, business, and education. Her articles have appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, WebMD, Ocean Home, and Psychiatric News, to name a few.

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