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All the Sleepy Ladies: Why Women Get More Tired Than Men

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Tired Feet

Birth control, equal pay, government representation — and sleep? Turns out snooze time may be the latest item on the list of women’s issues. According to recent research from the Centers for Disease Control, women are more likely than men to say they’re tired or even exhausted. While there’s no single explanation for the gender difference, there are lots of biological and psychosocial factors that can send women straight for the nap room.

What’s the Deal?

Results from the CDC research show that between 2010 and 2011, about 15 percent of women reported they felt very tired or exhausted, while only 10 percent of men confessed to the same. The gender difference was especially large among people 18 to 44 years old (about 16 percent of women versus nine percent of men). These findings add to other research suggesting that men say they need less sleep than women do, and that women are more likely to experience sleep disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome and insomnia.

It’s unclear why exactly women tend to have more problems in the snooze department, but the reason is likely related to some social and biological issues. For one thing, 18 to 44 is the age range when women usually have children. So it’s possible that, in some families, women are the ones who are up tending to screaming babies in the middle of the night.

Studies have also found that in opposite-sex couples who share a bed, men are more likely to disturb their mates. That’s possibly because women’s circadian rhythm is about six minutes shorter than men’s [1]. That means women are generally wired to fall asleep and wake up earlier than men, and ladies who try to go to bed at the same time as their male partners might be messing with their biological clocks.

All these sleep issues can have serious health consequences for women. Research has found women who sleep poorly are more likely to suffer from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and psychosocial distress than men who also sleep poorly [2]. (Of course, it’s unclear whether not getting a good night’s sleep actually causes any of these symptoms.) And good morning, grumpy: Other studies have found sleep-deprived women tend to wake up more miserable than men who got the same amount of rest.

Is It Legit?

Probably. It’s worth noting that the CDC study relied on self-reporting, and it’s conceivable that women might just be more likely than men to admit they’re tired. Women are also more likely to say they’re stressed and to say they experience physical symptoms of stress (such as headaches and indigestion). So it’s possible that, in women, fatigue might be the body’s way of asking for a break from a hectic day.

Interestingly, the fact that women say they’re more tired doesn’t mean they’re more likely to be slacking on their responsibilities at the office. Research has found that when men and women are sleep-deprived, men are more likely to show poor performance at work. These findings suggest women are more accustomed to having to function on the job while feeling tired.

Obviously, sleep is important for everyone, but more and more research suggests women might need to be especially vigilant about making sure they get a solid night’s rest.

Do you think women experience more sleep-related issues?  Let us know your thoughts by commenting, tweeting @Greatist, or heading over to our brand new Greatist Community forums!

I'm the senior writer at Greatist, and I mainly cover new trends in psychology and mental health. When I'm not hanging out at Greatist HQ,... Read More »

Works Cited

  1. Sex difference in the near-24-hour intrinsic period of the human circadian timing system. Duffy, J.F., Cain, S.W., Chang, A.M., et al. Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 2011 Sep 13;108 Suppl 3:15602-8.
  2. Self-reported symptoms of sleep disturbance and inflammation, coagulation, insulin resistance and psychosocial distress: evidence for gender disparity. Suarez, E.C. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., USA. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 2008 Aug;22(6):960-8.