Do working women get lower quality sleep than men?

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While domestic responsibilities are slowly being divvied up more equally among men and women with the increasing prevalence of working moms and stay-at-home dads, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that women still shoulder most of the household and child-rearing responsibilities. A study highlighted by the Economist earlier this year found that, across 18 countries, men had between 4 to 80 minutes more leisure time per day than women. Yet, apart from spending less time lounging on the couch, some researchers suggest that modern multitasking women may be missing out on more vital downtime. A University of Cincinnati study of 583 grocery and pharmacy workers found that women’s “greater responsibility to care for family members (irrespective of their work efforts), tended to result in higher reports of sleep disruption.”

Sleep researchers have often looked into the physiological differences in the way that men and women sleep—largely how the influence of our different hormones can impact our rest patterns differently. Yet this recent study, led by sociologist and work and family researcher David Maume, highlights how the uneven distribution of domestic responsibilities, and their accompanying stresses, may be driving a trend of lower quality sleep among working women.

In a series of phone interviews, study participants were asked to answer 10 questions probing their sleep quality from the previous three months—things like, whether they’d had their sleep interrupted by another family member, or if they had fallen asleep on the job. Consistent with previous studies, women were more likely than men to report ailments to their health, and the different levels of health problems accounted for 27% of the gap in sleep quality between the sexes. But, the researchers also found, another 17% of the gap between men and women’s sleep quality was due to the stress of trying to balance work and family life.

Yet, it wasn’t only working women who tended to suffer from low-quality sleep. Researchers also found that among men characterized as more “egalitarian” levels of sleep disruption were comparable to those of women—a finding, they write, “consistent with other studies showing that some pro-feminist men place family responsibilities on par with career pursuits.”

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