The next time your hubby nudges you awake to go on diaper duty, you might want to cite this latest study that claims women need more sleep than men.
Whether or not men and women have different needs when it comes to rest has long been speculated, but researchers from Duke University believe they have found the answers to end the debate.
Before arriving at this conclusion, researchers took into account men and women’s different responses to inadequate rest.
By observing how 210 middle-aged men and women behaved after not getting enough sleep, researchers learned a number of interesting things:
1. Women need more sleep than men because their brains are more ‘complex’
Male and female brains don’t work the same way; they process information differently.
Male brains make use of gray matter more often, which is the part of the brain that is task and action-oriented. They can be extremely focused on a single task, but often only one at a time.
Women tend to use their white matter more, which means they are able to seamlessly switch between tasks without losing their focus.
No wonder mums are such great multi-taskers, right?
2. Women need more sleep because their brains work harder during the day
Sleep allows the brain to recover and repair itself after a long day of activity. Because women’s brains tend to process information and experiences more thoroughly, they tend to have a higher rest requirement.
The behaviour of neurochemicals also affect male and female disposition. Men are less likely to sit still and are more physically impulsive. Women are more adept at processing “sensorial and emotive” information because of their stronger neural connection to their hippocampus, or the brain’s memory storage. Males do reflect on certain sensations and memories, too, but are quick to analyse and move on to problem solving, when needed.
3. Women need more sleep to decrease the risk of anger, depression, and psychological distress
“Women had more depression, women had more anger, and women had more hostility early in the morning,” says lead study author Michael Breus, who is also a clinical psychologist and sleep expert.
Researchers made use of a standardised sleep quality questionnaire to assess the sleep quality of participants. They also delved into each one’s “perceived social support from friends and family” to find out why the women were more “hostile” than men.
(But we’re willing to venture a guess that not being chipper when extremely sleep deprived applies to both genders.)
4. Women need more sleep for better cardiovascular health
Not only does a lack of sleep cause hostility in women, the Duke University study claims it has ill effects on a woman’s cardiovascular health. A persistent difficulty to fall sleep can elevate a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
“Interestingly, it appears that it’s not so much the overall poor sleep quality that was associated with greater risk, but rather the length of time it takes a person to fall asleep that takes the highest toll,” researcher Edward Suarez told Science Daily. “Women who reported taking a half an hour or more to fall asleep showed the worst risk profile.”
As with all ongoing studies, this particular one also has its limitations. The study’s number of participants is miniscule. So naturally, more data has to be gathered in order for these findings to be conclusive.
But it’s fascinating to learn about the human brain and how it affects the way we experience the world. Not only can this knowledge provide insight on how couples can better relate to one another, it can also help them be more empathetic parents to their sons and daughters.