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The life of a woman is not always easy; being a sassy career woman often means working long hours while juggling housework, cooking, a happy partner and nurturing relationships with your friends. Then comes squeezing in time for exercise, healthy eating and taking “me time” to relax and rejuvenate. Add to that the wide range of activities women seem to involve themselves in, from community-organised fund drives to PTA meetings, to a night out with the girls and you have a recipe for exhaustion.
Yup, being a woman can be hard work!
It’s not surprising then that women, according to sleeping expert Michael Breus, PhD, sleep less than men. With urgent priorities pressing in from all directions, sleep seems the easiest to drag to the bottom of the “to do” list. But sadly, if we don’t ensure we get enough zzzs, we feminine species may be putting our health in great jeopardy. In fact, the research suggests that women are at greater risk than men for developing heart disease and diabetes because of poor sleeping habits.
Why are women not getting the sleep they need? Consider the following five reasons:1. Hormonal changes
Dr. Carol Ash, director of Sleep for Life in New Jersey, offers hormones as a possible reason why women get less sleep than men. According to Ash, hormonal shifts across a woman’s lifespan tend to interrupt natural sleep rhythms. Pregnancy, for example, makes it difficult to fall asleep, mainly because it’s hard to find a good position. Once the beautiful bub is born, women also get little sleep, having to attend to the infant’s many needs. Menstruating women tend to wake up several times during the night. And during menopause, women experience hot flushes and night sweats.2. Body clocks
It may not seem evident, but men and women have different body clocks. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a man’s body clock has 24 hours and 11 minutes in a day, which is six minutes longer than a woman’s average circadian period. While the difference may seem negligible at first, the effects accumulate day after day. The difference in body clocks mean that women are predisposed to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, which makes it more difficult to stay asleep at the end of the night. There’s also a tendency for women to seek light early which means less sleep early in the morning.3. Sensitivity to crying infants.
British company Mindlab surveyed the top 10 sounds most likely to wake men and women. The results are not surprising: a baby crying is the number one sound likely to wake women, while the same sound is not even in the top 10 list for men! Instead, the sound of a car alarm is more likely to wake up men. This implies that between parents of infants, mothers are less likely to get deep sleep than their husbands. The gender difference is possibly an evolutionary “advantage” of course, as mothers are more likely to respond to possible threats to kids, while fathers are more likely to respond to threats to the entire family unit.4. Rumination
Studies on depression have consistently found that women, compared to men, tend to obsess on different thoughts at different times of the day. For instance, women are more likely to obsess on whether there’s enough food in the fridge than guys who can be worry-free even when the groceries are incomplete. Women are more likely to go over and over a perceived mistake. And women tend to make an inventory of the day they just had. Since many of this rumination is done before bedtime, the mind becomes so busy that it’s difficult to sleep.5. Sleeping beside their partner
And here’s an interesting finding published in 'Sleep and Biological Rhythms': men tend to sleep soundly when they’re sleeping with a romantic partner, while women tend to sleep worse! There are many possible reasons for this, with the most common being men are more likely than women to snore. The thing is, there is something about sleeping with someone else that is very comforting, which means women would rather sacrifice the quality of their sleep.
The most important thing when considering all these reasons why women sleep less is turning awareness into action. Studies have consistently shown that getting less than eight hours of sleep a day can have a significant impact on one’s physical and psychological health. Aim to share the parenting load with your partner; try to reduce worry and rumination, and proactively create time for sleeping. For women and for men, rest is as important as a priority as work and family.
Last week: How self compassion improves your happiness
Author of De-stress Your Success: Get More of What You Want with Less Time, Stress and Effort, Sacha Crouch is a business, executive and life coach who helps people create the work and lives they love. For other free lifestyle resources visit www.activ8change.com.au.