The Impact of Gender on Sleep
The impact of gender on sleeping patterns has received little scientific interest compared to other areas of sleep research, despite varying effects on sleep regulation, sleep disorders and the potential health implications of poor sleep on men and women.
A 2016 sleep survey investigating the sleeping habits of the UK’s working adult population reported that on average both men and women achieved 6.4 hours’ sleep per night, despite women reporting a higher ‘ideal’ sleep need (7.6 hours versus 7.2 hours). Whether women need more sleep than men is a hotly debated topic, with a recent Finnish study suggesting that the optimal amount of sleep for women was 7.6 hours, slightly less than the 7.8 hours suggested for men.
Within the general population women are reported to take longer to fall asleep and report poorer sleep quality than men. Having said that, women demonstrate increased levels of slow wave sleep (e.g. deep sleep) at any given age compared with men and also retain it with age, unlike their male counterparts who see a gradual decline.
The incidence of sleep disorders also afflicts men and women differently. Women have a 40-percent higher risk than men for insomnia. This is in part due to natural physiological developmental periods such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, all of which are associated with fluctuations in the powerful hormones oestrogen and progesterone leading to alterations in sleep patterns.
Differences in prevalence of insomnia between men and women don’t appear to be significant prior to the onset of puberty. Around the age of 11, risk of insomnia spikes dramatically for girls, but maintains a steady increase for boys. Interestingly, a two-fold increase in depression and anxiety risk also coincides with insomnia at puberty for girls, suggesting both mental and physical health origins. In adulthood, the incidence of anxiety disturbing sleep is 10% higher for women, than men1. During pregnancy hormonal, physical, and emotional changes are often common causes of sleep disturbance, as are hot flushes and night sweats during perimenopause and menopause.
Another consideration is that reporting levels of insomnia are known to be higher in women and therefore some of the prevalence differences could be explained by under reporting of insomnia by men. Men are significantly less likely to report their struggles with many psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety, both of which are commonplace in insomnia. In contrast to insomnia, the incidence of sleep related breathing disorders such as snoring and sleep apnoea are twice as likely in men versus women, increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Scientific research suggest that women may also be more susceptible to the negative effects of poor sleep compared with men, with it being strongly associated with high levels of psychological distress and greater feelings of hostility, depression, and anger. These effects were matched with higher levels of all biological markers tested including C-reactive protein levels and interleukin-6, both measures of inflammation that have been associated with increased risk of heart disease.
Such gender differences in sleeping patterns demonstrates an urgent need for further research. One solution could come in the form of personal sleep tracking, which has seen a sharp rise in recent years. Managed correctly it could offer sleep researchers a unique opportunity to access large samples of sleep data from the general population. Since its US launch in 2015, the S+ by ResMed has tracked over 2 million nights of sleep and counting. After 10 years of research and development the S+ could therefore herald a unique way of assessing the impact of gender on sleep, as well as offering an effective way to improve sleep. Poor sleepers have been shown to increase their sleep duration by an extra 45 mins after just 7 nights of S+ use, something which would come as a welcome relief to both male and female insomnia sufferers.
 Bensons for Beds and The Sleep School National Sleep Tracker Survey (2016)
 Finish Study (TBC)
Mallampalli, M and Carter, C. (2014). ‘Exploring Sex and Gender Differences in Sleep Health: A Society for Women’s Health Research Report’. Journal of Women’s Health (Larchmt). Jul 1; 23(7): 553–562
.Mallampalli & Carter Ibid
 Johnson, R. and Schultz, B. (2006). Epidemiology of DSM-IV Insomnia in Adolescence: Lifetime Prevalence, Chronicity, and an Emergent Gender Difference.
 Suarez, E. (2008). ‘Self-reported symptoms of sleep disturbance and inflammation, coagulation, insulin resistance and psychosocial distress: Evidence for gender disparity’. Brain Behav Immun. Aug; 22(6): 960–968.
 Resmed (2015) – Unpublished data.