Have you ever noticed that you might get up early while your partner enjoys a little extra shuteye? Or perhaps your partner falls asleep in the late evening, while you tend to be more of a night owl?
If you and your spouse have very different sleeping patterns and habits, don’t worry – it’s not a sign that you’re incompatible when it comes to sleep. It could just be a difference in your circadian rhythms, and on a broader scale, your inherent physical makeup.
Research has shown that men and women tend to sleep very differently across the board. This is true from regular sleeping routines, to common sleep issues and conditions that affect both genders.
So why do these discrepancies occur, and how does it work?
It all starts with your internal clocks and how you are naturally hardwired to rest.
We rely on our circadian rhythms to signal when we are supposed to sleep, and when we are supposed to be awake. And the part of the brain that controls these rhythms is called the hypothalamus. In addition, other factors such as light, disruptions, sleeping habits, and technology screens can influence (and even harm) our circadian rhythms.
Another factor that also dictates our circadian rhythms is gender. Men tend to have a longer circadian rhythm cycle than women. This means that on the whole, they feel less tired in the evening. Women, on the other hand, tend to have a shorter cycle. Thus, they generally wake up earlier – and faster – than their male counterparts.
These subtle differences in men and women’s circadian rhythms can have other consequences as well, besides just varying bedtimes and wake-up times.
For example, when it comes to sleep interruptions, men tend to be more affected and have a harder time getting back to sleep than women, and may be more affected by sleep deprivation. On the other hand, women tend to have a more drastic dip in energy levels in the evenings, which may lead to a higher risk of accidents at work or on the road.
The two genders sleep differently. But it’s paying attention to the cues of your body’s internal clock that’s important when it comes to getting a good night’s rest.
Several studies have also found differences when it comes to the two genders’ abilities to fall, and stay, asleep. Men tend to fall asleep much faster than women, and are less likely to be woken up by distractions – such as loud noises.
There are several reasons for this discrepancy.
For one thing, despite a dip in energy levels, women tend to have more active brains at night. This leads to worrying, anxiety, or just mental activity that prevents them from reaching a sleepy state of mind.
For another, hormonal changes throughout a woman’s lifetime can alter their chemical production and sleeping routine. These changes make it more likely for them to wake up in the middle of the night during certain life stages. (This is especially true during pregnancy and menopause).
Men and women also use different tools to fall asleep, with women generally relying on books, baths, and relaxing music. Meanwhile men turn to television, screens, and other electronic distractions. In this scenario, the women have the men beat, as excess screen time can actually alter your naturally occurring circadian rhythms.
When it comes to sleeping disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), women have a clear disadvantage for pinpointing and diagnosing potentially dangerous sleep issues. This is because men tend to have much more noticeable signs of this common sleeping disorder, particularly when it comes to snoring and gasping in their sleep.
However, women with OSA snore less. And they often suffer from other symptoms such as daytime fatigue, moodiness, or headaches. But the problem is these symptoms resemble having other conditions like depression or anxiety. As a result, women are diagnosed far less often with sleeping disorders like obstructive sleep apnea. And it often takes women more than one doctor’s visit to get an accurate diagnosis.
The good news is now there are at-home sleep tests. These tests are readily available online and can make a diagnosis easier to achieve for both sexes, regardless of noticeable or unnoticeable symptoms.
Men and women are different to be sure, and as it turns out, this carries over to their sleeping habits as well. So don’t stress about differences in sleep schedules, and pay attention to gender-specific signs of a sleeping disorder, (especially if you’re female), to ensure the best quality sleep for you both.
Not sure where to start if you suspect a sleeping problem? Contact us for help and guidance to getting back to better sleep and better health!