He Slept, She Slept: Sex Differences in Sleep

How sleep differs between men and women.

From the WebMD Archives


“This could be influencing the process of diagnosis,” Twery says.

In fact, obstructive sleep apnea in women is commonly mistaken for depression, diabetes, hypertension, hypochondria, or a host of other conditions, according the National Sleep Foundation.

Whatever the rates, there are certain conditions unique to women that raise their risk for the disorder. One of them is polycystic ovary syndrome, the most common cause of infertility in women. Another is pregnancy.

“Some pregnant women begin to snore and have difficulty breathing while sleeping,” Twery says.

“What is the danger [to the health of the mother and child]?" Do disturbances in breathing [caused by sleep apnea] affect the cardiovascular health of mother and child? What is the impact for future cardiovascular health? Does sleep apnea resolve after pregnancy?" Experts don’t know.

Better Sleep, Better Health

Each night, people commonly pass through several stages of sleep, during which the brain undergoes repairs and restoration. The bulk of those repairs, which include the promotion of cell growth and fixing cells damaged due to stress, occurs during deep sleep, which also may promote emotional well-being.

For people with sleep disorders, entering and maintaining deep sleep -- if they can sleep at all -- is a challenge.

Woman or man, getting an insufficient amount of sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of additional health problems, such as diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease,and other conditions. Such risks are higher in men than in women, and they are more likely to strike men at an earlier age. Why? Again, we don’t know, though Twery speculates that hormonal differences may protect women until they are older.

If hormones do play a protective role, they have also been implicated in sleep problems.

“Growth and stress hormones disturb our patterns of sleep,” says Twery, “but how they affect men and women differently has not been studied.”

Whatever the gender differences may be, says Twery, they appear to play less of a role in sleep as men and women age. For example, postmenopausal women and men of the same age have the same rate of obstructive sleep apnea.