When it comes to something as universal as sleep, it’s easy to assume that men and women both have fairly similar habits and experiences. However, new studies and surveys have shown that the two genders actually sleep differently and may have different needs at night. Because this vital function affects moods, health and several other aspects of our lives, understanding these distinctions proves important. Science is still attempting to understand more about sleep cycles, dreams and why our bodies require rest, and as these complexities continue to unravel, we continue learning about our differences as well as ways to improve sleep quality.
Sleep Habits: Men vs. Women
From feeling chilly to making the bed, we tend to have fairly different habits according to recent surveys and studies. Jawbone UP, maker of a sleep and activity tracking device, surveyed and tracked several users to see what makes men and women different, providing some interesting information to consider.
Men sleep more soundly with a partner.
While women wake up 1.4 times a night whether alone or with their partner, men awake 1.8 times a night alone compared to 1.2 times when partnered.
Women have cold feet and men prefer the buff.
The fairer sex is three times more likely to slumber in socks. However, twice as many men than women reported sleeping naked.
Women make the beds.
Although stereotypical, women are 47% more likely to make the bed, while men are 8 times more likely to have the bed made for them.
Women prefer side sleeping and love pillows.
Over 81% of women report side sleeping while 55% of men are side sleepers. Side sleeping is the most popular position for all people, followed by back and then stomach sleeping. Women also reported sleeping with two pillows while men preferred one, on average.
Men like the ‘net.
Men are 19% more likely to be on the internet after 5 pm, according to Jawbone UP. In the survey, all people that use the internet after 5 tended to fall asleep 37 minutes later.
Other scientific studies and research have also found surprising differences:
- A Duke University study examined both men and women that were sleep deprived. Even though both groups had the same amount of rest, the sleep-deprived women were more hostile and angry in the morning then men.
- The Duke University study also highlighted that women who don’t get enough rest are at greater risk for heart disease and depression as well as inflammation that can increase pain, while men’s physical health doesn’t appear to be closely linked with sleep.
- However, a study in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine journal found that women have less performance deterioration under sleep deprivation, but that neither sex can truly recover from workweek sleep deprivation from weekend catchup rest.
- A National Sleep Foundation poll found that women are more likely than men to report trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. Not surprisingly, women were also more likely to report daytime tiredness 3 or more days per week.
- Sleep problems affect women at a higher rate than men. The National Institutes of Health report that women are 1.4 times more likely to have insomnia . Women are also more likely to have nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder, and to suffer nighttime pain.
- Menopause and pregnancy have also been shown to significantly affect sleep for women.
- A Harvard Medical School study found that women have shorter circadian rhythms and tend to sleep and wake earlier than men.
Tips Men & Women Can Use to Sleep Better
The science of sleep research highlights some pretty big disparities, and most seem to unfairly affect women. Women not only are more likely to have sleep problems, but also face stiffer consequences for not getting enough shut-eye, such as moodiness and long-term health risks. While all genders need to get adequate rest, women should be paying particular attention sleep hygiene. The following tips are culled from leading sleep hygiene specialists and sources, and apply to everyone.
1) Schedule Enough Time for Rest
One of the most effective ways to get enough rest is to schedule adequate time for rest. Seven to nine hours is the general recommendation, though the amount that’s right for you is the amount that leaves you feeling well-rested in the morning. Budget your time accordingly, and give yourself some extra time before to settle in and relax. Maintain a fairly regular schedule, even on the weekends. Establishing a calming routine such as a warm bath, yoga, or reading can help you wind down, but don’t try to force yourself to sleep when you aren’t tired, as this can cause anxiety and restlessness. Another bonus to establishing a regular sleep-wake schedule: one study of college-aged women from Brigham Young University researchers showed a regular schedule was associated with healthier body mass index (BMI).
2) Cut the Electronics
As illustrated in Jawbone’s survey and several others, using electronics before bed can keep you up later and reduce the amount of rest you get. Smart phones, tablets, laptops and televisions can keep all you wired between the bright light and mental stimulation, and accessing social networks can also add stress and anxiety. Working from bed can keep your mind up night, too. Most experts recommend cutting the electric cord a couple hours before bedtime, and keeping electronics out of the bedroom altogether.
3) Keep it Cool
Room temperature is a critical factor for sleeping well. A room that is too hot or too cold can disrupt rest, with the ideal range between 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit. While cool room temperature is good, cold feet and hands are not (though covers, socks or a hot water bottle can help). If heat is your problem, opt for breathable cotton or wool bedding. For couples with different ideas of a comfortable temperature, try using separate blankets or a dual temperature control device like a ChiliPad.
4) Make Your Bed Comfortable
Your bed is the foundation for rest, so a comfortable mattress and comfortable environment are important. If your bed is older than 8 years, it may be time to replace it especially if you see obvious signs of wear, sagging over 1.5” deep, or wake with pain. When it comes to mattress choices, couples should consider each person’s needs. Materials that contour like memory foam and latex can offer more universal satisfaction (80-85% of owners satisfied versus 63% for springs). Memory foam, latex and pocketed coil beds also tend to do best at reducing motion transfer, which minimizes disturbances. Certain types of mattresses also come with “dual” sides to allow for two different firmnesses, such as custom latex beds and waterbeds.
5) Don’t Forget Diet and Exercise
Two other lifestyle components that studies say may affect sleep include activity levels and certain types of foods. Consistent, regular exercise is associated with longer sleep and improved quality. One study from Northwestern University researchers showed that adults over 55 who exercised 30 minutes four times per week slept up 45-60 minutes more after 16 weeks compared to non-exercisers, the same result typically achieved with medications.
Diet can also affect rest. A light bedtime snack can keep you from laying in bed hungry, but heavy, spicy or fatty foods can also cause sleep-stealing indigestion. Stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, chocolate and sugar can also keep you up, and late night alcohol can disturb sleep later in the evening. Foods recommended by researchers for a sleep-friendly snack include milk, honey, a small serving of turkey or chicken, cherries and cherry juice, low-sugar cereal, bananas, dark leafy green, nuts, seeds, or sweet potatoes.
The science of sleep is a very interesting field, one that we are just beginning to peek into. Differences in the way men and women sleep are just one interesting finding that can help each of us better understand rest and get better quality shut-eye, reducing risks for several health issues and improving quality of life. Even though we have different needs and habits, both men and women can benefit from awareness and following good sleep hygiene habits.