Several new studies have revealed some key differences in how men and women experience sleep. For instance, compared to men, women typically fall asleep faster, sleep longer and deeper, and have fewer instances of waking up during the night. Also, when subjects in an experiment mimicked the effects of sleep deprivation, women performed better than men on assigned tasks. Researchers attribute this to the fact that women are able to have more deep sleep on a regular basis. Paradoxically, women still complain more than men about not getting enough rest. New mothers, who are customarily awoken by their children, remark on their lack of sleep more than men even if the fathers are the ones waking up more throughout the night. Another seeming idiosyncrasy found in these studies is that, even though sleeping with a partner leads to less deep sleep and more disruptions, people tend to be happier with their sleep history if they are sharing a bed. However, body clocks are not synchronous between men and women, with those of males being six minutes longer than those of females. Over a series of days, those six minutes compound exponentially, causing the schedules of both people to be drastically out of sync. Is the comfort of another human being more satisfying than the sleep one receives alone? Why is it that women, who sleep better than men, tend to complain more about not getting enough? How can this gender gap be crossed?
Jeanne F. Duffy, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Associate Neuroscientist, Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital
Wendy M. Troxel, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and a leading researcher on relationships and sleep