September 28, 2017
From “So What, Who Cares (vol 3, issue 58) How Sleeplessness Reflects Structural Inequalities”:
Women need more sleep than men. I was overjoyed to learn this last year when I read the results of a Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Center study last year. And as to why women need more sleep? Their brains demand it:
“Women’s brains are wired differently . . . so their sleep need will be slightly greater,” says Professor Jim Horne, the director of the Sleep Research Center. ’Women tend to multi-task — they do lots at once and are flexible — and so they use more of their actual brain than men do.”
As to why women are using more of their brains? Blame multitasking, which literally requires more energy for your brain. But here’s the thing — multitasking isn’t necessarily a sex-linked trait. It could be linked to how people have learned how to solve problems based on societal and cultural factors. So the fact that western women need more sleep may, in fact, be linked to the realities of most western women’s lives: women do “a disproportionate number of time-sensitive domestic tasks,” as the Wall Street Journal put it, leading to an extra ten hours of multitasking per week compared to the men in their households.
This raises the question: If the domestic division of labor were more equitable, both in terms of time and cognitive labor, would women still need more sleep? It’s a question that is illuminating the sleep research that examines how wider societal factors affect our forty — or thirty, or twenty — winks.