Women cope with disturbed sleep far better than men

Men and women are constantly compared in all aspects of their lives and abilities whether it’s sporting achievement, salaries, career development or physical skills. The battle of the sexes continues with evidence that women are more suited to men at working in the early morning but not late at night.

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Research showed women perform better than men if sleep deprived and they bounce back faster after a few days of sleep deprivation. The reason is that women’s bodies are designed to care for their young and often have to operate with little sleep. In later years women go through menopause and these hormonal changes also impact on their quality of sleep.

It has always been known that because of the obvious anatomical and hormonal differences that twice as many women experience insomnia than men, although women are less likely than men to have sleeping disorders that involve breathing, such as sleep apnoea.

A recent study has now researched the differences in sleep disorders that are experienced by both and how it impacts their sleep quality. This new study by Diane Boivin, McGill Medicine and Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, highlights how one’s sex can also impact your quality of sleep. It isn’t something that hasn’t been looked at before and the differences were very clear but they are now confirmed along with the reason why.

It has been found that a women’s body clock causes them to fall asleep and wake up earlier than men. A woman’s sleep cycle differs slightly to that of a man and they need 20 minutes more sleep than men per night. The difference causes women to have a more disturbed sleep pattern. Because of this disturbed sleep pattern women are awake to react if they have a snoring partner. Men on the other hand are sleeping better than their female counterparts and might not be woken by the adverse nocturnal sounds of snoring.

As a result women are often unaware that they snore, or even worse, suffer from sleep apnoea. They tend to attribute their tiredness, headaches, moodiness and weight gain to hormones, worry or work related tensions. Doctors are also unaware and most women are treated with medications and an underlying cause like snoring or sleep apnoea is not addressed.

Women who do not know that they suffer from snoring or sleep apnoea will also tend to suffer from weight gain. If this weight gain gets out of control then they will definitely snore or suffer from sleep apnoea.

Researchers found that women who had consistent sleep patterns have the least amount of body fat. Results to the research showed that a consistent sleep time but more importantly a consistent wake up time was linked to a lower body fat. Quality of sleep is relevant to this and women who have disruptive sleep patterns have a change in composition with a loss of muscle to body fat. Sleeping between 8 – 8.5 hours a night was tied to the least amount of body fat.

Women tend to experience restless sleep during certain intervals of menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, due to the higher oestrogen levels, and these intervals are known to shift women’s internal clocks, causing them to wake up and feel tired earlier than men. On the other hand, men are much more prone to experience shortness or lack of breath during sleep as a result of fat deposits surrounding the neck which appear on men much more than women.

Women also have a different relationship with sleep and illness. Women who had less than 8 hours of sleep demonstrated an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity over their male counterparts. Snoring and sleep apnoea display similar symptoms and may be misdiagnosed or even confused as a result.

The initial symptoms include tiredness, feeling anxious, lack of motivation to exercise, interrupted sleep, weight gain and headaches. Left unchecked, these symptoms can become serious and include heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes and thyroid problems amongst others.

If you feel you could be suffering from any of these conditions you should have it checked sooner rather than later. Medically approved products that include various types of mouthpiece for sleep apnoea treatment or to stop heavy snoring are available after overnight testing through local Hospitals or Sleep Centres, or even easier and more inexpensively online without a prescription or test being required.

John Redfern