BOSTON (CBS) – Between work and family, and all of life’s other obligations, it seems much of America is sleep deprived. “I get about four hours a night,” said Kenda Smith of Worcester. “And that’s on a good night.”
Like millions of others, Kenda’s schedule simply doesn’t allow for an eight-hour sleep routine and that can be trouble according to Brigham and Women’s Sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler. “Sleep loss has a huge impact on our ability to function,” he explained.
But when it comes to sleep, not everyone is created equally. Research shows men say they can function well on just 6.2 hours of sleep, while women say they need 6.8 hours.
WBZ-TV’s Kate Merrill reports
Kenda, who is a mother of two and spends about 40 hours a week on her blog, says she has learned to get by on much less. “I would swap 2 of my sleep hours for extra hours during the day with nobody asking me for anything,” she said.
In general, women actually sleep more than men, about 18 minutes more a night. Dr. Czeisler says that is probably because women have a different body clock or circadian cycle. “The average women’s internal clock is set to an earlier time of night. That means that she will tend to become tired earlier in the evening,” he said. Men have a longer cycle which tends to make them stay up later. Men are also much more likely to suffer from sleep apnea which can also interfere with sleep.
Women may feel tired earlier, but they also complain of insomnia more often according to Dr. Czeisler. He believes that too may be related to the woman’s body clock. Artificial light may be to blame because it tends to suppress the sleep hormone ‘melatonin’. And what do we all do before we go to sleep, head for the bathroom which has the brightest lights in the house. “So the brain is thinking… we’ve got it all wrong. It’s still day time and we should be on-the-go,” Czeisler said.
Whatever the cause, lack of sleep makes just about everything more difficult. “We’ll have difficulty remembering. Our reaction time can be impaired and our mood starts to deteriorate,” Czeisler said.
Good mood or bad, we still have to get up and go to work or school or take care of the kids. So who functions better when sleep deprived, men or women?
Kenda Smith believes she functions better than her husband when tired and one study suggests she may be right. Sleep deprived men and women were both given a series of computer tasks and women made fewer mistakes. Kenda is convinced her body has learned to adapt. “I think my brain knows that I’m tired so it works overtime to compensate,” she said. But another study suggests that even though men get less sleep, they complain less about being tired than women do.
In the end this may be much more serious than complaining or functioning at work. Some researchers believe those extra minutes of sleep that women tend to get may be part of the reason they have longer life span. That’s certainly something to think about the next time you turn out the light.