A new study is suggesting that men and women’s biological clocks may be even more different than scientists originally thought. After measuring circadian rhythms for both men and women, researchers found that women’s biological clocks are actually running faster than men’s. The brain’s “circadian clock,” which determines when we naturally sleep and wake, runs about six minutes faster in women.
These new findings come from research conducted at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. NPR reports that 157 people “spent up to eight weeks in a windowless sleep lab in Boston, isolated from all cues about what time it was in the outside world.” The experiment allowed the subjects to drift into their natural circadian rhythm.
While six minutes difference doesn’t sound huge, the fact that womens’ internal clocks are running faster may partially explain why women are more likely to suffer from insomnia. On top of this, more than 30% of women actually have especially fast internal clocks which undergo a daily cycle in less that 24 hours. As NPR observes, “Maybe the biggest implication of the study is that there may be millions of women who have to fight against their inner clock every day to do what they need to do.”
Researchers hope that this information will help doctors tailor sleep therapies based on sex. While these advancements in understand gender differences in sleep are eye-opening, the issue facing Americans is the lack of eye-closing. One third of Americans suffers from a sleep disorder and many more don’t get the recommended amount of sleep they need.