Sexism Is Making You Sleepy

The look and feel of gender equality.
The look and feel of gender equality.
Image: Shutterstock

Finally, a persuasive argument for gender equality: Researchers have found that a country’s level of equality is linked to better sleep—for everyone, men included. Let’s alert the patriarchs and cross our fingers, I guess!


Researchers from the University of Melbourne crunched data from the United Nations’ gender empowerment index—which ranks countries on measures like the wage gap and the share of women legislators—as well as a prior survey of 14,000 people in 23 European countries. The researchers found that, on the whole, women’s sleep was more restless than men’s, and was more likely to be disrupted by having a child or an unemployed partner. As the researchers point out in a commentary for The Conversation:

Mothers are more likely to be called to comfort young children in the middle of the night and bring them back to bed. Mothers of teenagers are also more likely than fathers to stay up at night worrying about children’s safety or waiting for children to return home after curfews.

Men’s sleep, on the other hand, was more likely to be interrupted by worries about their own unemployment and household finances—a finding supported by prior research. All of which is to say, poor sleep seems to be roughly associated with responsibilities and stresses that fit a very retro model of women as caregivers and men as providers.

But, when the researchers considered the United Nations rankings, they found that countries rated higher on gender equality in political and professional spheres saw lower sleep disturbances. For example, in the Ukraine, which ranked lowest on gender equality, 16 percent of men and 22 percent of women experienced restless sleep, as Business Insider reports. Compare that to Norway, which ranked highest on gender equality, and saw three percent of men and nine percent of women report sleep disturbances.

The United Nations ranking considers gender equality in the world at large, not within the family, so you might question the relevance—but the researchers argue that their findings underscore “the importance of the national context in shaping the pattern of gender inequality in the domestic sphere.”

There’s no proof of causation here, just an association, but past research has found a similar link between gender equality and lower stress and greater happiness. “It is understandable why women’s sleep might be more troubled when they live in patriarchal societies,” the authors write with a no-duh. But, they add that “PATRIARCHY HARMS MEN TOO” (all-caps, mine) and explain, “Gender equality challenges hegemonic masculinity, giving men more freedoms to care for themselves, and this may extend to getting better sleep.” So, please, let us all agitate to get men the sleep they need.

Senior Staff Writer, Jezebel




Sleep quality is so underprioritized given what a drastic effect it has on our health. And of course, I will always appreciate scientific, data-based acknowledgement of the many subtle ways we are all harmed by inequality.

Hey, here’s a Hot Tip for Better Sleep:

Your first sleep cycle of the night lasts 70-100 minutes, and all subsequent cycles last 90-120 minutes. The shorter duration of that first cycle is somewhat balanced out by the time it takes to fall asleep, though; 10-20 minutes is normal, although it often takes less time for the sleep-deprived. If you schedule your alarm to go off during the interval between cycles, you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed; 4 cycles is better than 4.5 cycles even though it means less time spent asleep. The exact length of your sleep cycles will vary from person to person, but you can either start out with multiples of 105 minutes and adjust with trial and error or you can use one of the various apps that will monitor your sleep cycles (typically using motion detection, with you putting your phone under the edge of your mattress or something overnight).

P.S. Don’t forget that it helps to get a bit of natural sunlight every morning (having a window by your bed is great for this) and to avoid blue light near bedtime or in the middle of the night (you can use the “Night Shift” setting on iOS or the “Night Mode” setting on Android).