Exploring Sex and Gender Differences in Sleep Health:
A Society for Women’s Health Research Report
Monica P. Mallampalli, PhD, MS, and Christine L. Carter, PhD, MPH
Previous attempts have been made to address sleep disorders in women; however, significant knowledge gaps in research and a lack of awareness among the research community continue to exist. There is a great need for scientists and clinicians to consider sex and gender differences in their sleep research to account for the unique biology of women. To understand the role of sex differences in sleep and the state of women’s sleep health research, the Society for Women’s Health Research convened an interdisciplinary expert panel of well established sleep researchers and clinicians for a roundtable meeting. Focused discussions on basic and clinical research along with a focus on specific challenges facing women with sleep-related problems and effective therapies led to the identification of knowledge gaps and the development of research-related recommendations. Additionally, sex differences in sleep disorders were noted and discussed in the context of underlying hormonal differences. Differences in sleep behavior and sleep disorders may not only be driven by biological factors but also by gender differences in the way women and men report symptoms. Progress has been made in identifying sex and gender differences in many areas of sleep, but major research gaps in the areas of epidemiology, sleep regulation, sleep quality, diagnosis, and treatment need to be addressed. Identifying the underlying nature of sex and gender differences in sleep research has potential to accelerate improved care for both men and women facilitating better diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately prevention of sleep disorders and related comorbid conditions.
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