Both biological and cultural factors can affect the quality of the sleep women are able to get, so improving sleep requires a variety of lifestyle solutions.
Sleep needs change as you change. Everyone remembers being a teenager who had to be dragged out of bed at noon. But perhaps now you’ve had the experience of being regularly awakened by a toddler who rises with the sun. Basically, different groups of people need different amounts of sleep. Young children need anywhere from 9 to 13 hours of sleep to be healthy and grow. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. And a small study led by British scientist Jim Horne at the Sleep Research Center at Loughborough University in England found that women may need 20 to 30 minutes more sleep than men to be healthy.
Why Women Need More Sleep
According to Horne, the major reason women require more sleep than men is that women are more likely to be multitaskers than men. Multitasking requires you to use more of your brain.
“Women tend to multi-task—they do lots at once and are flexible—and so they use more of their actual brain than men do. Because of that, their sleep need is greater,” explained Horne. “The more of your brain you use during the day, the more of it that needs to recover and, consequently, the more sleep you need.”
Multitasking, whether in a woman’s role as the main caretaker of her children or in a professional capacity, is mentally exhausting, and when you throw technology into the mix, women rarely get to wind down properly in order to fall asleep and get enough hours of sleep. They are usually the last ones in their household to go to bed at night and the first ones to get up, often reaching for their phones first thing in the morning to start planning their day. This adds up to fewer hours of sleep overall, leaving women running on a sleep deficit.
Motherhood itself, not surprisingly, also plays a part in women not getting as much sleep as they need. Not only does the daily multi-tasking aspect of motherhood require more time and brainpower, but even when a woman is sleeping, she may not sleep as deeply. “Mother's minds are sensitive to the sound of their child crying from babyhood onwards, so that is often why they wake when a youngster stirs—yet a man sleeps through it,” said Horne.
Even if a woman isn’t a mother, there are other biological differences that affect the amount of quality sleep women get. During the last week or so of her monthly cycle, a woman has a surge in the hormone progesterone. Increased progesterone production requires additional energy from the body, and that increased energy output means more sleep is needed to replenish energy levels. According to Psychology Today, hormonal changes during PMS may also interfere with melatonin production. This could be why some women tend to experience insomnia right before their period, even if they tend to sleep normally during the rest of the month.
And something as seemingly harmless as being smaller in size than your bed partner can also have an effect on women’s sleep: “When people share a bed, the lighter one tends to get moved around and woken up by the heavier one—normally the man,” Horne notes.
Better Sleep Techniques for Women
So what’s a woman to do? One of the best ways for women to get better sleep is to practice better sleep hygiene, including sticking to a sleep schedule, eating right and exercising during the day, and making sure the bedroom is not only comfortable but also set to a sleep-optimal temperature of 15-20 °C.
While it can be very difficult for women who have the responsibilities of family and career to maintain a sleep schedule, it’s important to carve out time each night to slow down and start shedding the stress and worry of the day before trying to sleep. Some of the most effective approaches for unwinding include activities like these.
Writing is one of the best tactics for reducing stress and getting into a relaxed state of mind before sleeping. A worry journal where you can unload all the major stresses and concerns from the day tamps down lingering anxiety, may help promote deeper sleep at night. Bullet journals can help with organization and defining tasks for the next day, actions that further reduce stress and help the brain slow down. Art journals, which combine making art and writing, enlist creativity to express feelings and identify stressors.
Adult coloring books have become very popular as a method of dealing with stress. Even just 15 or 30 minutes of coloring at night before bed can start the brain’s process of shedding mental clutter so that sleep may be deeper and more restful and restorative. Adult coloring books are inexpensive and don’t require any fancy art supplies. A book to color in and some markers or colored pencils are all you need. It’s an affordable and simple form of relaxation.
Meditation is a fantastic way to process emotions, let go of daily stresses, and focus on getting the best possible sleep at night. Guided meditation apps for smartphones are easy for anyone to follow, including those new to meditation. Meditative breathing is an excellent tool for getting into a relaxed state and preparing the body and mind for sleep. You might want to try the popular meditation apps Calm or Headspace.
Gentle yoga is a good alternative if you’re the type of person who can’t sit still at the end of the day. A relaxing yoga stretching program that is designed to be done before sleep will help relax the body and the mind so sleep comes faster.
5 Other Ways That Women Can Try to Get More Sleep
1. Get Creative With the Sleeping Arrangements
It can be difficult to find creative solutions to resolve the disruption of having a partner in bed who snores, thrashes around, or just generally keeps the other person awake or wakes them up when they are sleeping. Getting a bigger bed so that each of you has plenty of room to spread out is one option, as is having two separate beds in the master bedroom.
Separate bedrooms for each partner is something to consider as well. There is a stigma about married couples sleeping in separate bedrooms, but when one of you cannot get the healing and rejuvenating sleep that you need because of the other person, sometimes it takes resourcefulness to solve the problem. In the last few years, separate bedrooms for couples have cropped up, and some parents and seniors confess that one of them often ends up sleeping in another room in order to get the sleep they need. This is nothing to be ashamed of! If it works to help you both get a good night’s sleep, that’s better for your relationship than trying to sleep in one bed just because that has traditionally been the norm. Separate bedrooms give each of you a space to set up in the manner that is most beneficial for your sleep preferences.
2. Share the Child Care Responsibilities
Women with babies or young children who still wake up at night should try trading off the nighttime responsibilities with their partners. Even though it’s traditionally been expected that the mother will get up in the middle of the night to tend to children, there’s no reason a couple can’t switch off or try other ways to relieve the burden from falling 100% on the woman’s shoulders. This way, at least a few nights of the week, she can catch up on sleep while her partner takes care of, and bonds with, baby.
3. Try Essential Oils
Sleep aids like essential oils or herbal supplements can also promote better sleep. An essential oil diffuser can fill the bedroom with the soothing scent of lavender to encourage relaxation and peace. Other essential oils that can contribute to healthy sleep are chamomile, rose, clary sage, and neroli. Essential oils can be mixed with rubbing alcohol and sprayed on bed linens, pillows, and pajamas to support deeper sleep.
Bath and body products that contain essential oils are luxurious and relaxing too. Just make sure that any products you use on your skin are real essential oils, not fragrance oils. Real essential oils mixed with products are safe for the skin, but fragrance oils can cause rashes or allergic reactions in people that are sensitive to chemicals or perfume.
4. Start A Nightly Tea-Drinking Ritual
Relaxing herbal teas can help you relax at night. Chamomile, hops and valerian root have been used for centuries to address sleep problems gently. And it is believed passionflower soothes nervous tension by increasing the body’s own natural GABA levels, one of the brain’s tools for instilling a sense of calm, so you might also try a passionflower tea if the other flavors don’t suit you.
5. Try an Herbal Supplement
Often people turn to prescription sleep aids or sleeping pills to get sleep, but there are herbal supplements that can promote healthy natural sleep without many of the side effects that prescription medications can have. Melatonin, a natural hormone that tells the body when it’s time to sleep, is a very popular supplement that you’ve probably heard of. However, women of child-bearing age should be careful about taking melatonin. Since it is a hormone, taking more of what your body already produces could put hormonal balances out of whack, interfering with your ability to get pregnant. Instead, consider formulations without melatonin, such as RECHARGE HEALTH™ blissful sleep, which contains magnesium, valerian root extract, lemon balm extract, and other natural ingredients that help promote restful sleep. (Speak with your doctor before taking any supplements.)
The Bottom Line
Whether or not women need more sleep than men differs by individual. However, if you’re a woman who’s feeling tired all the time, pay attention to what your body is telling you, and use the tips mentioned above to be sure you’re getting the rest you need to feel you’re at your best.
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