Everything to know about the ‘gender sleep gap’

Illustration of two people lying in bed together

Losing out on sleep is enough to put anyone in a bad mood – but women seem to be missing out on a lot more.

This is a phenomenon referred to as the ‘gender sleep gap’.

One British survey found the average woman estimates that she loses around three hours sleep a night because of her partner. This amounts to 1,095 hours of sleep lost a year, or, more alarmingly, 45 days a year.

Out of the 2,000 people who took part in the survey, one in two British women admitted to feeling ‘constantly sleep deprived’.

Here’s everything to know about an issue that’s affecting thousands of women every day.

What is causing the gender sleep gap?

Almost a quarter of women in the study (22%) said their partner’s snoring was to blame for their lack of sleep.

But noisy noses aren’t the only things keeping them women at night – a number of other factors come into play when it comes to the UK’s current sleep-loss epidemic.

Parenting was another reason women felt they were missing out on sleep, as they would frequently have to get up to settle restless children while their partners slept.

Another study, conducted by The Times, proposed an alternative culprit. It found that work stress was a leading cause of sleepless nights for women, with half (46%) of those aged 18-24 citing it as the biggest factor affecting their sleep.

Biological differences cannot be ignored either. Hormonal changes can cause sleep problems – be they period pains or the hot flushes and sweats associated with the menopause.

Why do we need to address it?

Getting enough sleep is crucial for both our physical and mental wellbeing. Sleeping helps restore and repair our bodies, particularly our immune systems.

It’s recommended that adults get a minimum of 7 hours sleep a night – ideally 7-9 hours. Those who fail to do this could face major health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

A lack of sleep can also increase the risk of breast cancer and dementia — both leading causes of death for women.

Natalia Bojanic, a mindfulness expert, said: ‘Sleeping is an invaluable activity for human beings. This is easily demonstrated in the absence of sleep, at which point mental health issues surface, emotional irritability increases, and the immune system significantly underperforms.’

Illustration of two people lying in bed together

Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are also linked to a lack of sleep. This impact on emotional wellbeing is something that can also be seen in the British survey, with 21% of women saying that a lack of sleep effected their self esteem, some even claiming it made them feel ‘ugly’.

What are the solutions to solve the gender sleep gap?

There are a number of simple solutions to ensure both men and women get the kip they deserve.

Depending on how much your partner is affecting your sleep, a sleep divorce – or at least a trial – could be something to consider.

‘If your partner is restless in the night, perhaps they snore or breathe heavily, and as a result keep you awake or disturb you throughout the night, it can be a good idea to sleep apart from your partner in order to catch up on some much needed sleep,’ says mind coach Anna Williamson.

If restless kids, however, are interrupting your slumber, then sharing out the night time shifts seems the fairest way to ensure both parties get (roughly) the same amount of sleep.

But all in all, it seems more research needs to be carried out on the everyday worries and work-related anxieties keeping women up at night – as well as treatments to combat them.

‘Women are not studied as much as men when it comes to sleep,’ Katherine Sharkey, a professor of psychiatry and human behaviour, told The Times.

‘There’s an attempt to address it, but definitely we’re behind.’

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