Britain's leading sleep expert investigates whether women really need more sleep than men
It’s one of those questions that divides couples across the country: Who needs the most sleep out of men and women? Now, thanks to Britain’s leading sleep expert, the argument can finally be settled.
Professor Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Longborough University says: ‘One of the major functions of sleep is to allow the brain to recover and repair itself.
‘During sleep, the cortex – the part of the brain responsible for thought, memory, language and so on – disengages from the senses and goes into recovery mode.
‘The more of your brain you use during the day, the more of it that needs to recover and, consequently, the more sleep you need.
‘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. Because of that their sleep need is greater.’
That’s not to say busy men don’t need extra sleep, too. He concludes: ‘A man who has a complex job that involves a lot of decision-making and lateral thinking may also need more sleep than the average male – thought probably still not as much as a woman.’
Generally speaking, a woman tends to need 20 minutes more sleep than a man – although this will vary according to the person and their lifestyle.
The average adult needs between six and eight hours of sleep a night. Although some claim to get by on much less.
‘People will tell you they get only five hours a sleep a night,’ says Professor Horne. ‘Yet if you question them further, they tell you they have an hour’s nap in the afternoon, which puts them up to six hours.
‘That’s how Mrs Thatcher used to survive, though in times of crisis she used to make do with four hours.’
This new research may shed light on why women’s brains tend to age slower than men’s. Professor Horne says: ‘The fact that a woman’s brain tends to get more time to relax and repair itself may explain it.’