Sleep and Gender—Are Guys More Likely to Get a Better Night Sleep?

When I’m home from college, I notice very different sleep patterns when it comes to my mom and dad. For example, my mom will wake up to the slightest sound. She wears earplugs to sleep, has a white-noise machine, and shuts her bedroom door at night. She usually kicks my dad out of the room after about twenty minutes because of his incessant snoring. Meanwhile,snoring my dad moves into our guest bedroom and is able to fall asleep with all five of my cats clawing at his feet. When I came across an article relating gender to sleep cycles, I couldn’t help but think about my parents and wonder if they were a prime example of this phenomenon.

For example, women are twice as prone to insomnia than men. Could this be due to chance, or could gender be a factor?

In this case, the null hypothesis is that gender is not correlated with sleep cycles. The alternative hypothesis is that gender is correlated with sleep cycles.

Dr. Bovin of McGill University attempted to prove the alternative hypothesis through an experiment with 26 participants (15 men and 11 women). Bovin hypothesized that the body clocks of men and women affect sleep and attentiveness. The 11 women were studied during two stages of their menstrual cycle. This is because the research team believe that menstrual activity affects biological rhythms and therefore sleep cycles. They found no exhibition of sleep problems in both sexes. Their study solely found that women wake up more tired and are less alert at night. They did not find a correlation, nor a mechanism to support the alternative hypothesis.

I’m including this study in my blog for a different reason than I usually do. While I usually incorporate studies to help support the alternative hypothesis that I am researching, I included this study as an example that failed to do what I had hoped. This study only includes 26 people, which is far too small of a group to conclude anything about the alternative hypothesis even if substantial results had been found. On top of that, I think the researchers definitely should’ve had an equal number of men and women, because the number difference automatically jumped out at me.

Further in my research, I found a slightly more substantial study focusing on the circadian rhythms of men and women. A study done by Harvard University Biological Science specialist Jean Duffy and her team found that women’s body heats and melatonin levels are set to an earlier time in comparison to men. In this study, the scientists focused in on 57 women and 105 men. I still disagree with the difference in gender numbers, but the study did have interesting results. After studying sleep cycles for a month, they found that, on average, women had noticeably shorter intrinsic circadian cycles than men, which could be the reason for the fact that women tend to wake up earlier and have more cases of insomnia than men. Overall, they found that women’s circadian clocks are typically set to an earlier time than their male counterparts, and that their rhythms are also shorter. Still, the scientists even claim themselves in the article that they did not find a mechanism as a result of their studies. While you don’t need to find a mechanism to see significant correlations in science, the study still doesn’t prove much at all about sleep cycles in men versus women, in my opinion.

My final thoughts:

Although scientists are actively trying to prove the alternative hypothesis, their results aren’t convincing. None of the data found strikes me as groundbreaking, but I do think they have a tiny start in proving something significant. They would be better off focusing on a very large group of men and women with an equal number of both genders. They also would have to repeat the process many times to prove that women and men truly have different sleep patterns. In conclusion, I do not believe that my mom’s and dad’s different sleep patterns have anything to do with their genders. The null hypothesis stands…for now!

Sources:

Psychology Today

McGill Study

PNAS.org Study

Pic found here

 

6 thoughts on “Sleep and Gender—Are Guys More Likely to Get a Better Night Sleep?

  1. Rebecca Aronow

    I was drawn to your blog because I definitely see differences in sleep pattern as it relates to gender in my own life as well. Both of my parents don’t sleep very well, but my dad can sleep in really late while my mom wakes up a lot during the night and usually wakes up fairly early as well. I also notice it with my boyfriend. He’ll fall asleep so quickly and be able to pretty much sleep through the night while I’m tossing and turning the whole night through. I definitely agree with you that the two studies you talked about didn’t prove much in terms of the alternative hypothesis that you developed, but they made me think about possible mechanisms at play.

    I tried to think about my own sleep pattern to determine why it is that I don’t sleep as well. One thing that I thought of was that often when I’m unable to fall asleep it’s because I’m too busy thinking about negative things, like stressing about how much work I have to do the next day or ruminating about something bad that occurred the previous day.

    When I decided to research this possible mechanism, the first thing I found was a study that researched psychosocial factors in relation to gender and sleep patterns (http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ocp/10/1/54/). The study was relatively large with 1,179 people (623 women and 556 men) and found that more women self-reported that they slept worse when they felt like there were bad things happening in their life. For this study, those bad things were categorized in terms of demand, control, social networks, and emotional support. This definitely supports the mechanism that I found to be accurate in terms of my own experience with sleep, and also points to a gender difference in regards to that mechanism’s effect on people.

    After looking at this study I looked to see if there was a difference in how women process emotion compared to men, since I’m sure men also experience bad things that could adversely affect their sleep. This study found, through fMRI scans of the front limbic activity in the brain, that women are more affected by negative images than men (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26318628). Women rated the negative emotional images as more highly negative and in both sexes various areas of the brain showed high activity, although the amygdala—the fear center—was more active in men. The researchers thought that this pointed to the fact that women act more emotionally toward negative things while men act more logically toward them. I don’t think this proves anything about the relationship between sleep and gender, but it’s an interesting finding that may be a possible mechanism. Maybe when women are tossing and turning, they’re trying to compute their emotions from the day, which inhibits them from sleep.

  2. Luyi Yao

    It is good to see two different researches about a topic. However, I think although the second research reveals that women’s circadian clocks are typically set to an earlier time than their male counterparts, and that their rhythms are also shorter, it is not very convincing. Because the subjects are only 57 women and 105 men. Also, the researcher didn’t find what exactly cause the shorter rhythms. Does sex chromosome can affect something? We didn’t get the answer. All in all scientists need to do more researches about this topic!

  3. Abigail Edwards

    Hi Rachel,

    I think you did a really great job with this blog post! The intro about your parents was a great way to personalize the post. I can agree that my mom will wake up to literally any sound but yet my dad is out like a light whenever his head hits the pillow! Although, as you stated that isn’t due to their gender. I also think that you did a really great job of talking about the null hypothesis. To be completely honest, I have been really lost about that concept since we discussed it in class, but reading your post really helped to clear that up for me! So thanks for that! Great job!

    Abigail

  4. Jessy Severino

    This post is really interesting because I don’t really think that gender has to do with sleep patterns because everyone’s biological clock is different. Gender isn’t a factor when it comes to sleep. My girlfriend can sleep through anything while me on the other hand I wake up easily. I found an article that talks about a study that mentions that since women multitask and use their brains more they need more sleep then men do. I beg to differ but here is the link to the article. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/do-women-need-more-sleep-men

  5. Trevor Dennehy

    This conclusion makes sense to me, as every morning, garbage trucks make a lot of noise outside my apartment emptying dumpsters at 6:00 a.m. every day. I never wake to hear them, I sleep right through, while my roommate, also a man, always complains to be awakened by the trucks, being a much less heavy sleeper than I am. This article describes the differentiations between what makes a person a light sleeper or a heavy sleeper, as well as the implications of these states.

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