The Sleep Gap: How Age and Gender Affect Sleep Quality
Along with caffeine, diet and other lifestyle factors, our demographics—like gender and age—play a huge role in our quality of sleep. A study1 by the Better Sleep Council (BSC) found a particularly acute divide between women and men in the U.S., with women representing 57 percent of America’s poor sleepers and only 42 percent of its excellent sleepers.
Here’s a look at how these sleep differences break down—and how you can get better rest no matter what your demographic group.
The best and worst sleepers
Young women rank as the poorest sleepers; not surprisingly, this is particularly true of young mothers. Fathers of young children fare better: While 71 percent of women with children under 18 at home are poor sleepers, only 56 percent of men with young children at home sleep poorly.
The gender sleep divide is particularly wide for college students: 80 percent of female college students are poor sleepers compared with just 53 percent of male students, who are poor sleepers.
The prize for all-around best sleeper? It goes to older men. Those who are over the age of 55, married, and in good health, both physically and financially, sleep better than any of us.
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of sleep differences between men and women; numerous other studies have also pointed at a global gender sleep gap. Among them:
- In Australia,2 women are sleeping less, making them more prone to excessive daytime sleepiness. Aussie women also report feeling more affected by the symptoms of poor sleep overall.
- In Britain,3 women estimate that they clock a full three hours less sleep at night than their partners.
Generational sleep differences
Beyond gender, your age and life stage also have a significant bearing on your shuteye. BSC found that:
- Adult Gen Z’s, ages 18 to 22, represent 10 percent of poor adult sleepers and 5 percent of excellent adult sleepers.
- Millennials make up 34 percent of poor sleepers and 26 percent of excellent sleepers.
- Boomers make up 22 percent of poor sleepers and 36 percent of excellent sleepers. If you’re a retired Boomer, even better! Retired adults make up 16 percent of poor sleepers and 28 percent of excellent sleepers.
- The Silent Generation represents 3 percent of poor sleepers and 8 percent of excellent sleepers. While the Silent Generation represents a small percentage of excellent sleepers, Silents are more than twice as likely to be excellent than poor sleepers.
Of course, getting too little sleep can have numerous negative impacts6 on your quality of life, including daytime sleepiness, an increased likelihood of accidents, problems concentrating, poor performance at work or school, and weight gain.
The BSC study also found that the worst sleepers are likely to be under immense stress, whether it stems from the work environment, financial woes, and/or interpersonal relationships.
“Some of the research may seem surprising, but to clinicians in sleep medicine, it reflects what we see played out in our practice every day,” said Ellen Wermter, board-certified family nurse practitioner in sleep medicine. “The bottom line is that habits surrounding sleep matter. Set yourself up for success by prioritizing proper rest. Break the stimulant-sedative cycle, exercise and give yourself adequate time to mentally wind down to better manage the anxiety-producing situations of life. A well-rested individual is more likely to be happy at work and in relationships, and to have the energy and drive to improve his or her current situation.”
No matter your age or gender, remember that quality sleep is possible. Today, there are many tricks, tips, and methods available for revamping your sleep habits. It may just take some trial and error to find what works best for you.
Having trouble sleeping? Any number of circumstances could be interfering, from anxiety about COVID-19 to sharing a bed with your pet. Continue reading the Sleep Talk blog to learn the finer points of sleep.
- “Better Sleep Council Research Finds That Young Women, Especially Mothers and Students, Are Among the Worst Sleepers in America,” Better Sleep Council, May 2019.
- “Sleep Disorders May Hit Women Harder,” by Rick Nauert, Ph.D., PsychCentral, August 2018.
- “The Gender Sleep Gap: Why women are sleeping less than men,” Bensons for Beds, July 2019.
- “Exploring Sex and Gender Differences in Sleep Health: A Society for Women's Health Research Report,” Journal of Women’s Health, July 2014.
- “Gender and Time for Sleep among U.S. Adults,” American sociological review, February 2013.
- Insomnia page, Sleep Foundation.