Women sleep better than men, which may be why they live longer, according to a study The research also suggests that if men could learn to sleep like women they might also be able to close the seven-year gap in male and female life expectancies.
The study by Alexandros Vgontzas, of Pennsylvania State University, found that on average women are much better at coping with minor sleep deprivation – one of the hallmarks of modern life. He found that missing an hour or two of sleep regularly can affect hormone levels and increase stress during the day.
Dr Vgontzas studied 25 men and women in their twenties who went from an eight-hour sleep regime to one where they were woken up after six hours. They were tested for alertness and their blood was analysed for natural substances implicated in disease, such as cytokines and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF).
Both men and women suffered concentration problems but the men also had higher levels of TNF-alpha, which according to Dr Vgontzas puts them at higher risk of disorders such as obesity and diabetes.
Despite being woken up early, the women in the study were also able to put in an average of 70 minutes of deep sleep – thought to be essential for health – compared to an average of 40 minutes of deep sleep for the men. Dr Vgontzas suggested in the journal Chemistry and Industry that the difference may be due to women's bodies having to cope with nursing babies.