Sleep gets a lot of attention in doctor’s offices and in health news stories, and for good reason. The benefits of a good night’s rest are as profound as they are plentiful. Sleep helps with everything from immune system function to memory formation, while scrimping on it increases the risk for everything from depression to heart disease. Virtually every part of the body—and every bodily process—is affected by sleep in some way.
Yet a major segment of the population isn’t clocking sufficient ZZZs: women.
A 2019 UK-based survey found that women get three hours less sleep per night than men, and about half reported feeling sleep deprived constantly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 57 percent of women report grappling with insomnia at least a few nights per week, compared to just 51 percent of men.
But every woman should be in a position to reap sleep’s numerous rewards. And a few surprisingly simple changes could go a long way in helping make the gender sleep gap a thing of the past.
“I think a good place to start for women is to get educated about sleep and to understand how important it is,” said “The Sleep Ambassador” Nancy H. Rothstein, an MBA-turned-sleep-consultant and lecturer, “and then to build a culture of respect around it.”
The factors fueling the gap
While various studies show that women do get less sleep than men, it’s a bit harder to pinpoint one exact cause. Experts generally agree that a combination of physiological, genetic and environmental factors drives the gender sleep gap.
Physiologically, for example, women have different intrinsic circadian rhythms than men. While men’s bodies tend to adhere more closely to a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, women’s cycles are an average of six minutes shorter, which means they’re more likely to awaken earlier. That, in turn, can increase their risk for sleep disturbances and for types of early-waking insomnia.
Life changes also present another significant challenge to women’s ability to sleep comfortably. Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause often lead to hot flashes and overheating, which disrupt sleep patterns. According to at least one study, severe hot flashes are “strongly associated” with chronic insomnia. Being too hot at night doesn’t only preclude a continuous night’s sleep; it can affect women’s ability to function at work the next day. Further, a mattress with poor or inadequate support can disrupt pregnant women’s ability to sleep through the night.
Finally, research that has been done in the area suggests that having children takes a toll on women’s sleep far more than on men’s. Women also continue to do more housework on average than men, sometimes staying up late to fit it all in.
“I’ve heard it called ‘momsomnia,’” said clinical psychologist Shelby Harris, author of The Woman’s Guide To Overcoming Insomnia. “It’s that feeling of, ‘I only have a few hours at night that are quiet, and that’s the only time I can get things done.’”
Finding solutions in better sleep habits
Women will find that relatively small changes in their sleeping routine and their home can make a considerable difference. And the key place to look is the sleep environment, which should be as comfortable as possible, experts at The National Sleep Foundation say—calling the mattress the “most important resource.”
“There are studies that have been done that show replacing an old mattress with another one improves the quality of a person’s sleep by 10 or 15 percent,” said Allen Platek, vice president of new product development at Tempur-Pedic. Pillows are equally important, he said.
Next, check in on the climate inside your bedroom. Ideal sleep conditions comprise a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees, and humidity between 20 and 50 percent. Many people try to cool their bedrooms with a noisy short-term solution like air conditioning or a fan, but overlook the real critical factor in too-hot bedrooms: the “micro-climate” between a sleeping person’s mattress and his or her skin, and between the bed and the covers.
“A lot of humidity and temperature build up in that micro-climate,” Platek said. “And you have to control it if you’re going to have a successful night’s sleep.” He points to the company’s TEMPUR-breeze° temperature-adaptive mattresses and pillows, which are cool to the touch when a person first lies down, then help to constantly cycle out heat and humidity throughout the night. A mattress like this one, which feels up to eight degrees cooler throughout the night, can affect your sleeping environment.
Bedtime routines are also essential, and they begin hours earlier than many people realize. Both caffeine and alcohol should be avoided for optimal sleep quality, and experts agree that limiting screen-time before bed can have a huge impact on your ability to fall and stay asleep.
Of course, life presents obstacles that women cannot control. Deadlines loom. Children get sick. Sleep takes a back burner. But committing to small changes in sleep hygiene are simple ways women can fight back against the gender sleep gap, and help ensure they’re able to get the sleep they need and deserve.
Sleep really changes a person’s life overall,” Harris said. “If you can change your sleep, it makes all the difference.
Shelby Harris, clinical psychologist
Explore a cooler night’s sleep with the TEMPUR-breeze° mattress, designed to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Based on average heat index of TEMPUR-LUXEbreeze compared to TEMPUR-PROAdapt models measured over an eight-hour period.
This content is paid for by Tempur-Pedic and published by WP BrandStudio. The Washington Post newsroom was not involved in the creation of this content. Learn more about WP BrandStudio.
Credits: By WP BrandStudio.