We know that sleep is important for overall health, but does the amount of sleep you need vary between men and women? It turns out the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no.
A lack of sleep can affect your mental health, energy levels, and overall wellness. So, getting enough sleep for your unique body is critical.
While there is little evidence to suggest that all women need more sleep than men across the board, there are certain factors affecting some women that may cause them to need more sleep or be at higher risk for not meeting their sleep needs.
That’s why in this article, we’ll be covering some of the factors that impact women’s health and sleep needs, plus a few tips for getting better sleep.
Why Might Women Need More Sleep than Men?
While women do not innately need more sleep than men, there are some reasons why women may need a little extra sleep or may be at higher risk for not meeting some of their sleep needs. These factors include things like hormones, menstruation, pregnancy, and social factors.
But before we get into it, it’s important to note that experiencing disrupted sleep or irregular sleep patterns due to these factors does not necessarily mean that women need more or longer sleep. It’s more about finding what works best for you, but when in doubt, be sure to consult a trusted healthcare provider.
Here are a few of the factors that may affect women’s sleep:
There is a lot of evidence that suggests women’s sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, impact women’s sleep. In fact, research shows that sleep disturbances in women are most pronounced during periods of life characterized by changes in hormone levels.
For example, young women experience a surge of hormonal changes during puberty. During this time, they are almost three times as likely as adolescent boys to develop insomnia.
Women also show different sleep architectures during different stages of their ovulation cycles, which correspond to changes in hormone levels. Sleep architecture refers to the basic structural organization of normal sleep.
Some women experience changes in the length and quality of sleep phases like NREM and REM sleep during different stages of their lives, which are characterized by changes in their hormones. These include menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Research has found that changes in sleep architecture occur during the different phases of the menstrual cycle. A regular menstrual cycle occurs in two main phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase.
Most sleep disturbances during the menstrual cycle take place during the luteal phase, which is characterized by a rise in progesterone levels after ovulation before a sharp decline ahead of menstruation. During this phase, some women experience:
- Increased sleep onset insomnia
- More awakenings during sleep
- Lower sleep quality and efficiency
- Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS
Women experiencing PMS often self-report having more unpleasant dreams, nocturnal awakenings, morning tiredness, and increased mental activity at night when compared to women who don’t experience PMS. Women with PMS are also more likely to report insomnia, migraines, and daytime sleepiness.
Research shows that self-reported sleep issues increase during the course of pregnancy, with 68 percent of pregnant women reporting having altered sleep. The most common reasons include an increase in urinary frequency, headaches, and leg cramps.
Some pregnant women also report that waking up during the night, difficulty falling and staying asleep, and daytime sleepiness all increase as pregnancy progresses. Almost half of all pregnant women also report an increase in symptoms of sleep apnea, such as snoring.
Many of these effects on sleep may be attributed to physical changes during pregnancy, like increased abdominal mass, movement of the fetus, and more. Other sleep problems occuring after birth, such as increased wake time, decreased REM duration, and decrease in sleep efficiency may be related to the care and feeding of newborns.
Menopause is the natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Menopause typically happens in your 40s or 50s, with the average age of menopause in the U.S. being 51.
During menopause, estrogen, progesterone, and estradiol levels begin to fall, leading to changes in the body which can affect your sleep. In fact, postmenopausal women have the highest rate of insomnia complaints in the general U.S. population.
Some women (about 80 percent) experience vasomotor symptoms during menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats. These symptoms are associated with poorer self-reported sleep quality and chronic insomnia.
Some research shows that women with moderate to severe hot flashes are almost three times more likely to report frequent nighttime awakenings compared to women without hot flashes. Other studies suggest that some of these sleep issues, like more frequent nighttime awakenings and trouble falling asleep, could be caused by decreasing estrogen levels.
Other Sleep Disruptors
Beyond factors such as hormonal changes, pregnancy, and menopause, women tend to self-report more general sleep disorders than men in general. In fact, according to one study, women are:
- 41 percent more likely to experience insomnia than men
- Twice as likely to experience restless leg syndrome
- More likely than men to report having trouble staying asleep, feeling unrefreshed in the morning, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
- More likely than men to be diagnosed with anxiety and major depression
These disorders have a bidirectional relationship with insomnia, meaning that anxiety and depression may be linked to this condition. However, studies have shown that differences in sleep problems for women and men remain even after controlling for psychological issues.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Women Need?
According to the U.S. Department of Health, adult women should be getting somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. People who are pregnant may need more, and people who are older may need less sleep.
Talk to your doctor about the right amount of sleep for you, since other factors such as age and activity levels can also affect your sleep requirements.
6 Tips for Improving Quality of Sleep
If you struggle with sleep issues and getting enough sleep, it’s important to consult with your doctor. However, there are some simple changes you can make at home in the meantime. Here are some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.
1) Keep a Regular Bedtime
An irregular bedtime schedule has been shown to interfere with sleep quality. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule may benefit your circadian rhythm, which may improve your sleep.
Try setting a consistent time for turning out the lights and getting into bed, and stick to it every day. There are even some handy sleep apps out there that can help you stay accountable to your sleep schedule at night.
2) Examine Your Eating Habits
The food you eat may have an effect on your quality of sleep. As a general rule, it can be a good idea to avoid eating at least three hours before bedtime. But for some people, what you eat may be even more important than when.
For example, spicy foods can cause acid reflux, which can be worsened by lying down. Spicy foods can also increase your body temperature, which has been linked to poor sleep quality.
Foods containing added sugar and refined carbs, like sodas, instant noodles, fast foods, and desserts, have also been shown to interfere with sleep quality. A high intake of trans fats and calories may also contribute to insomnia, and eating fatty foods before bed has also been linked to poor sleep.
Caffeine and alcohol consumption can also influence sleep. Researchers recommend sticking to caffeine consumption in the morning to avoid sleep disruption and decreasing overall amounts to tolerance. High alcohol consumption is also associated with poorer sleep quality and shorter sleep duration.
3) Create a Sleep-Conducive Environment
Your sleeping environment is a crucial component of good sleep hygiene. Here are some tips for a sleep-conducive environment:
- If you live in an area with lots of noise, try keeping your room quiet by blocking out noise with a fan, white noise machine, or earplugs.
- Keep your room at a comfortable temperature that isn’t too hot or too cold: the ideal range is somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep your bedroom dark when you’re trying to fall asleep.
4) Limit Exposure to Screens Before Bed
Research shows that the use of light-emitting screens, like laptops, tablets, and smartphones, before bed can cause disruptions in sleep. This is because the blue-wavelength lights these screens emit can suppress melatonin.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps you sleep, and increases your brain’s alertness. So, to make it easier to fall asleep, you may want to avoid using these screens before bedtime.
5) Avoid Poor Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a collection of habits and sleeping conditions that affect your sleep. Poor sleep hygiene can interfere with your sleep quality. Some examples of poor sleep hygiene to avoid include:
- Sleeping in a room that is too hot or too cold
- Taking frequent naps in the daytime, which can interfere with your ability to sleep at night
- Sleeping in a loud room
- Keeping an irregular bedtime schedule
6) Wind Down with Relaxing Activities
Relaxing activities at night can help your body wind down, ease your mind, and lead to more quality sleep. Some good relaxation activities to try include:
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Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.