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Health & Wellness

Women are more likely to have sleep problems than men

We know that taking your iPhone to bed or drinking too much wine can be the enemy of good sleep. Here’s another factor that may determine whether you get quality shut eye: your gender.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics found that women were more likely to have sleep problems than men.

“They reported having more trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up feeling unrested,” says sociologist Colleen Nugent, Ph.D, who co-authored the report analyzing data from nearly 44,000 U.S. adults about their sleep habits between 2013 and 2014.

The survey is one of the few studies to look at sleep quality rather than how much we're getting each night.

It also examined whether such sleep habits differed among single parents, partnered parents and people without children. Not surprisingly, single parents, which make up one-third of U.S. families, fared the worst: Nearly 43 percent failed to get the recommended seven hours of sleep daily. That’s compared to 33 percent of adults in two-parent families and 31 percent for non-parents.

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Researchers also spotted a clear trend among women in every family type.

“We found that women had poorer quality sleep across the board, regardless of whether they had children,” explains Nugent.

  • Nearly one-quarter of female single parents reported having trouble falling asleep four or more times in the previous week.
  • Nearly one-fifth of women without kids, and 15 percent of women in two-parent households also said they suffered from frequent insomnia.
  • More than half of female single parents woke up not feeling rested, compared to 47 percent of partnered women and 39 percent of women without children.

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It’s a well-known fact that women are more prone to insomnia, explains Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D, a psychologist certified in behavioral sleep medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Men, on the other hand, are more frequent snorers and sufferers of sleep apnea.

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“It’s not clear why,” says Baron, explaining that more women are susceptible to sleep-wrecking depression. They also wrestle with getting good sleep during pregnancy and menopause. One recent Polish study found 70 percent of women undergoing menopause had trouble staying asleep, and 61 percent woke up too early. “It could also be that women have a greater perception of the disruption of sleep affecting their wellbeing and performance,” says Baron. “That doesn’t mean it objectively affected their performance. It’s just their perception, and insomnia is about perception.”

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Yet increasing research shows that quality slumber is critical for good health. Lack of sleep has been linked to diabetes, mental health issues, metabolic syndrome and expanding waistlines.

One University of Pittsburgh study of more than 500 middle-aged women found a link between women who complained of poor sleep and calcification in their aortas.

“It suggests they’re on a trajectory for higher risk for later heart attacks,” explains psychiatry professor and lead study author Karen Matthews, Ph.D, adding that black women in the study tended to complain about not sleeping long enough, while white women reported having more difficulty falling asleep.

How can we get to bed faster and stay their longer? Besides eating healthy foods (and not too late at night) and making time for exercise and stress management, Baron offers these tips:

Carve out enough time to get to bed.

“That means setting aside eight hours, so you can get seven hours of actual sleep,” says Baron. It helps to give yourself an hour to wind down by reading, listening to music, taking a bath or watching television.

Get off your electronic devices.

“Social media is relaxing, but it’s not helpful to get you ready for bed,” she says. “The light is too close to your eyes.” Power down your laptop. Stash your Smart Phone across the room, so you’re not tempted to glance at it if you wake up in the middle of the night.

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Stick to a strict sleep schedule.

Only go to bed when sleepy and get up at the same time each morning.

Seek treatment.

If you have problems staying or failing asleep for more than three nights a week for three months, you should see a doctor. “There are effective medications and behavioral approaches, such as adjusting your schedule or trying different imagery or relaxation techniques,” says Baron.

This story was originally published in January 2016. For more healthy living advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter.

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