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Women Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep—Let’s Fix That

8 hours just doesn't cut it.

 

Women Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep—Let’s Fix That

If you’ve been aiming for the customary “eight hours per night” (and missing it!), you should know: women need more sleep than men. Clinician Dr. Patrick Flynn recently published that while men need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, women need between 8 to 10 hours, due to differences in circadian rhythm. And he’s not the only one! The research on the sleep need discrepancy shows a wide range of results—and a vast majority of studies have determined that women need to catch more Zs than men. 

Does that mean that they actually are? Sadly, no. Sleep researchers found that women are more likely to suffer from sleep difficulties like restless leg syndrome, hypersomnia, and circadian rhythm disorders than men are. In fact, 25% of women experience insomnia—compared to 20% of men. 

And when we can stay asleep, the data shows that women only get 6 to 28 minutes of additional shut-eye compared to their male counterparts. We’re also more likely to be sleep-deprived, and feel exhausted when we’re awake! Women are critically under-rested, and it’s time to change that. 

Grab your notepad, your pillow, and prepare to count some sheep. We’re doing a sleep dive into what this means, why it matters, and how you can start sleeping better. 


Why Women Need More Sleep 

Let’s start with the bad news: women are widely underrepresented in many sleep and circadian rhythm studies. If you’re familiar with clinical research, you’re likely not surprised by that, but what this means is that we have less information on the exact reasons that women need more shut-eye. 

What we do know is that sleep-wake cycles are closely tied to hormones, and due to endocrine fluctuations that occur during all phases of the menstrual cycle and naturally occuring substances in the female body, cis women tend to need more rest. Experts haven’t discovered the ins and outs of this relationship, but what happens when women don’t get enough sleep is clear—and foreboding. 


What Happens If We Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Burning the midnight oil, thinking you can “sleep when you’re dead?” Read carefully. Here’s what can happen when women don’t get the required amount of rest each night. 


Increased risk of heart disease

In a Duke Health study of 200 healthy participants, researchers found that women who experienced “higher levels of sleep disruption” expressed biomarkers and strong indicators for risk of heart disease. Of those women, 33% had levels of C-proteins associated with an extremely high risk for developing cardiovascular diseases. 

Increased insulin levels

In the same Duke study, it was found that, women who were poor sleepers tended to have higher insulin levels. Another study from the National Center on Sleep Disorder Research discovered that “restricting sleep to 6.2 hours or less per night over 6 weeks led to a 14.8% increase in insulin resistance in both pre- and postmenopausal women.” Increased insulin resistance puts the body at risk for several cardiometabolic diseases, including stroke, heart attacks, and diabetes.
 

Psychological distress

Psychological effects of lack of sleep are far bigger than feeling grumpy. Low quality sleep has also been linked to “high levels of psychological distress, and greater feelings of hostility, depression, and anger” in women. Following a comparative study, Dr. Edward Suarez found that this same degree of psychological fallout is not as present in sleep-deprived men

What does this all mean? Low quality or too little sleep is dangerous for women. If you’re not getting enough rest, you are harming yourself. And you can’t play games with your health. So, the “sleep is for the weak” mantras need to be put to rest—literally. 


How To Get More (And Better) Sleep

So now that you know why you need more sleep, what’s next? Here are a few tips on how to get the Zs you need: 

Decrease stress

Don’t roll your eyes! “Stop stressing” might seem like just one of those things people say, but it’s important to understand that cortisol levels are a major factor in the ability to fall asleep. 

It’s a common misconception that being go-go-go and constantly stressed all day will lead to collapsing in exhaustion at the end of the night—that’s actually not how it works. In fact, high cortisol levels in the evening make it difficult for you to drift off and stay asleep.

So to really knock out and rest, you need to work on lowering your stress throughout the day. This can look like low-impact exercise, practicing stress-reduction techniques like meditation and somatic awareness, or making some serious lifestyle changes to remove stressors. We’re looking at you, workaholics—use that PTO!  

Improve your sleep hygiene

According to the Center for Clinical Interventions, strong sleep hygiene is a combination of “bedroom environment” and daily habits that encourage better sleep. You can take an in-depth look of what building a sleep routine may look like here, but a few highlights include: Lessen your screen time before bed, keep a consistent nighttime routine, and start implementing some sleep rituals. 


Our culture often makes it seem like sleep is just something we do in between the important things, but rest should be valued and prioritized. During sleep, our mind and bodies repair themselves, replenish our energy, and prepare for a new day. There’s nothing more essential than that. So, start treating your sleep like anything else you look forward to—your body will thank you. 

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