Sleep researchers: Are women more dependent on sleep than men?

Sleep researchers: Are women more dependent on sleep than men?

Regular sleep patterns are more important for women than for men
The rhythm of sleep has a lasting impact on our physical and mental health. Now, scientists from the Surrey Sleep Research Center at the University of Surrey, together with colleagues from other universities, have found that postponed sleep-wake cycles have a significantly more negative effect on cognitive abilities in women than in men. According to the researchers, women are therefore more susceptible to impairments due to shift work, for example. The researchers published the results of their study in the specialist journal “PNAS”.

Most people are well aware of the impairments in mental performance when fatigue or lack of sleep arise. Shifts in the sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) show a comparable effect, which has already been investigated many times in previous studies. The British scientists from the University of Surrey, the University of Cambridge and the University of Hull have now, together with colleagues from the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, analyzed which gender-specific differences occur when the circadian rhythm shifts. It became clear that women are significantly more dependent on a balanced sleep-wake cycle than men in order to avoid cognitive impairments.

Cognitive performance impaired
As part of their study, the researchers used 16 male and 18 female volunteers to analyze the effects of shifting their circadian rhythm. The subjects were examined in an environment without natural light sources, whereby the sleep-wake rhythm was shifted by controlled light-dark cycles. During the waking period, the participants had to complete a wide range of tests every three hours, submit a self-assessment of their fatigue and assess their mood or emotional state. In addition, the electrical activity in her brain was monitored during the sleep phases. In particular, the objective tests to measure cognitive performance showed significant changes due to the shift in circadian rhythm, according to the University of Surrey.

Night shifts particularly disturbing for women
According to the researchers, the effects of the postponed sleep-wake cycles were noticeable in both men and women. "However, the effect on performance was significantly stronger in women than in men, so women were more cognitively impaired in the early morning hours, which coincides with the end of a night shift in the real world," reports the University of Surrey. Night shifts are therefore significantly more disturbing for women than for men. According to the researchers, the increased impairments in cognitive performance to be determined here should urgently be taken into account for corresponding professional groups.

For the first time, the current investigation has succeeded in proving that shifts in the internal clock affect the performance of men and women differently, reports Dr. Nayantara Santhi from the University of Surrey. Professor Derk-Jan Dijk adds that the overall results show "how important it is to capture both men and women in research and to take into account a wide range of subjective and objective indicators of brain function." (Fp)

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