Sleep: The New Battle Of The Sexes

empty bed
Love, Self

Mars and Venus are a universe apart when it comes to sleep.

Sleep—nobody gets enough of it. But while both men and women suffer from lack of sleep, they differ in what prevents them from getting sound rest. When we lay our heads on our his-and-hers pillows at night, social and biological factors come into play that keep a woman awake all night with a baby while her husband sleeps like one.

Estrogen: The Insomnia Hormone

In a spring 2008 Ms. magazine article, "Why We Can't Sleep," Gayle Greene wrote that 67 percent of women experience frequent sleep problems, though three-quarters of all sleep research has focused on men. According to Greene, who is also the author of the book Insomniac, women's sleep troubles begin once they hit puberty, at which point they become two and a half times more likely to have insomnia than men are.

The hormonal fluctuations that happen throughout a woman's life cycle following menarche can disrupt sleep for several reasons: They can cause depression and anxiety, which alter sleep patterns. They can contribute to weight gain, which in turn may lead to sleep apnea—a breathing disorder that interrupts sleep. But the most common way for estrogen and progesterone fluctuations to cause sleep disturbance is by raising body temperature.

Women who take birth control pills, women with premenstrual syndrome, and menopausal women with hot flashes have elevated body temperatures at night. Our bodies naturally cool down as we fall asleep, so anything that keeps us warm also keeps us awake. Sleep Your Way To A Better Relationship

If you're sweating instead of sleeping, consider taking a hot bath or exercising an hour and a half before bedtime. It may be the last thing you'd think of to cool down, but it works. Your body temperature rises with the bath or physical exertion and then starts to decline, signaling to your body that it’s time for sleep.

Sleep Like a Baby, Unless One Is Crying

We've all heard tales about women's exhibiting superhuman abilities to lift cars when it comes to saving their children, but does maternity also bring on extraordinary hearing? There's no evidence to prove that this is the case, but there is research that shows women are programmed to pay attention to different sounds than men are. 

While researching a new cold-and-flu product, British neuromarketing research firm MindLab, which studies consumers' brain responses to advertising, found that specific sounds disrupt men's and women's sleep in different ways. MindLab played a variety of sounds for sleeping volunteers and measured the results on an electroencephalography (EEG) machine to observe and record how the noises affected volunteers' normal brain activity during sleep.

According to the study, women are most likely to be woken up by sleeping babies and dripping taps, whereas car alarms and howling winds are what rouse men most readily. Though the MindLab researchers did not speculate about the possible reasons for their findings, it's interesting that these results seem to correspond to traditional gender roles. Woman is in the kitchen, worrying about her drippy faucet and her screaming baby, while man is guarding the nest against potential danger. Our social conditioning—or biological predisposition, depending on whom you ask—follows us to bed, and there's nothing we can do about it except wear earplugs.