The gender sleep gap: why women sleep less than men (and how to fix it)

Sleep reserach shows a huge disparity in the quantity and quality of sleep between women and men. Why are women more sleep deprived?

girl sleeping in bed by getty images
(Image credit: Getty)

Women sleep less per night, and get worse quality sleep than men, and that's a fact. A recent study* of 1,162 women by The Sunday Times found that over half of the respondents (52 per cent) rated their sleep quality and 'bad' or 'very bad'. 

Another poll, this time of 2000 couples**, shows similar results, with nearly half of the women saying that they are constantly sleep deprived. On average, a British woman sleeps a shocking three hours fewer than a man every night. What is behind the gender sleep gap?

Most of us will probably think about snoring as a major reason for women's chronic sleep deprivation, and snoring does figure in both studies. And yet, snoring partners, or even just sharing a bed with a partner, has not been shown to be as detrimental as some think. In fact, of all the factors that keep women up at night, it is stress that has been shown to be the biggest factor. 

Being kept up at night by worries about work, relationships, and children is what makes women sleep deprived, and resentful of male partners who don't seem to be affected by stress in the same way. 

In fact, this isn't just a self-reported feeling that women get: the American Psychological Association has recently confirmed that while both women and men get stressed by daily life, women have more severe physical and psychological symptoms as a result. That bedtime headache is real.

Women in their mid-30s report the worst quality sleep of all (it's easy to see why, with so many women of that age juggling career and family), while younger women (under 25) report the highest levels of stress about their careers. The best sleepers are, perhaps unsurprisingly, women in their mid-sixties.  

So, what can women do to improve their sleep? Fortunately, there's no need to keep separate beds with your partner. Developing coping mechanisms for stress is a much better strategy for combating anxiety that leads to sleep deprivation. 

This is a long-term process, though, and may involve individually tailored therapy. In the shorter term, making sure that your bedroom is as relaxing as can be, with a great mattress and bedding, is a good start.  

*Study reported in The Sunday Times
**Poll conducted by Bensons for Beds