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    Does gender make a difference in sleep patterns?


    A comparison of sleep patterns in men and women, published in the Proceedings of the National  Academy of Sciences, shows that gender makes a difference when it comes to likelihood of having sleep and wake disturbances. The study, while small, may be the first to look at sex differences in sleep and waking under highly controlled conditions with simultaneous control for menstrual cycle phase and hormonal contraceptive use.

    US and Canadian researchers looked at sex differences in diurnal and circadian variation of sleep and waking while carefully controlling for menstrual cycle phase and hormonal contraceptive use. The diurnal and circadian variation of sleep and alertness of 8 women during 2 phases of the menstrual cycle and 3 women studied during the midfollicular phase were compared with that of 15 men. The participants underwent an ultradian sleep-wake cycle (USW) procedure that consisted of 36 cycles of 60-minute wake episodes alternating with 60-minute nap opportunities. During the wake episodes and naps, core body temperature (CBT), salivary melatonin, subjective alertness, and polysomnographically recorded sleep were measured.

    Women had a significant phase advance of CBT but not melatonin rhythms and an advance in diurnal and circadian variation of sleep measures and subjective alertness. Compared with men, they also had increased amplitude of diurnal and circadian variation of alertness, mainly due to a larger decline in nocturnal nadir.

    Women had significantly shorter stage 1 and non-rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep during the nocturnal sleep time. (REM is the fifth of five stages of sleep, through which individuals proceed in order and in cycles throughout the night.) REM sleep also was significantly longer for women than for men. Women and men did not differ in habitual bed and wake times, sleep efficiency (overall sense of how an a participant slept), sleep onset latency (time to fall asleep), REM sleep onset latency (time to reach the REM stage of sleep), stage 2 sleep (the second stage of the sleep cycle), or slow-wave sleep (deep sleep, the third stage of sleep). Women who took hormonal contraceptives had increased melatonin secretion but their circadian timing was no different than that for naturally cycling women in both the follicular and luteal phases.

    The findings, the authors said, indicate that women’s rhythms of CBT, sleep and subjective alertness are advanced during the midfollicular and midluteal phases, which may explain why women are more susceptible to sleep and wake disturbances than are men. 

    NEXT: Do cesarean deliveries increase the risk of childhood obesity?

    Judith M. Orvos, ELS
    Judith M. Orvos, ELS, is a a BELS-certified medical writer and editor and an editorial consultant for Contemporary OB/GYN.
    Miranda Hester
    Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.


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