How do men and women differ in their response to sleep deprivation?

A recent study found that women tend to perform better than men when low on sleep and also can rebound more quickly from mild sleep deprivation when they get restorative sleep. I was really interested in this study because it looks at the question of making up for workweek sleep deprivation with extra rest over the weekend.

Women and men were asked to sleep for only six hours per night, over six consecutive nights, to approximate the typical sleep deprivation that many of us experience during a busy workweek. The participants then spent two nights “catching up” on their rest with extended overnight sleep. Researchers found that women scored higher on performance tests during the period of low sleep and that their performance improved more than men’s after two nights of extended sleep. (Take note: Neither men nor women in the study were able to truly “catch up” on their sleep over the two nights. Both fell short, but women simply came closer than men.)

We know that women spend more time than men do in deep, slow-wave sleep stages over the course of a night. Time spent in deep sleep is restorative and memory boosting, which likely explains the advantage women have in performing under low-sleep conditions.

When it comes to sleep deprivation, men and women are as different as night and day. In this video, sleep specialist Dr. Michael Breus discusses the ways men and women handle the emotional stress of a sleep shortage. 

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