The Sexist Sleep Stigma: Being Tired Is Holding Women Back At Work

Photographed by Poppy Thorpe.
We all know how it feels trudging through a working day after a bad night’s sleep, but a new study has shown that poor sleep negatively impacts women more than men, with eight out of 10 suffering from persistent sleep problems. 
Even worse, the findings suggest that poor sleep is stopping women from achieving gender parity in the workplace. 
The study, from Dreams and Loughborough University, is the first to cite a correlation between bad sleeping patterns and gender inequality in working environments, and suggests that a 'sexist sleep stigma' exists within UK businesses.
Nearly three quarters of women who took part in the study reported a "medium" sleep debt. This was compared to around half of men. Getting a bad night's sleep negatively impacted the participant's performance at work as well – especially for women. Poor sleep had a greater impact on women’s ability to do their work carefully (37% vs 21%), handle their workload (32% vs 21%), do their job well (23% vs 10%) and work quickly (27% vs 17%) when compared with men. 
Advertisement
Well-rested female employees were found to be more productive and achieved more than men after a good night’s sleep (34% vs 26%). The research also showed that almost half of the women (44%) in the study approached the next day with a more positive mindset.
Commenting on the study’s findings, Dr Pixie McKenna said: "Sleep is fundamental to everyone’s good physical and mental health. But this research shows women are disproportionately impacted by persistent sleep problems and it is having a detrimental effect on their health, wellbeing and careers."
Speaking about the results of the Sleep Better Study, participant Rebecca Davies, 32, from Llanelli, said: "The study made me realise the impact poor sleep was having on my working day and my career. Now I’m tracking my sleep and taking steps to improve it, I’ve found I’m more productive and more positive at work, I feel more satisfied in my job and have a lot more energy I can put towards reaching my career goals."
Last year, Public Health England announced that companies should be doing more to help employees improve their sleep, putting the annual cost of sleep loss to employers at £30 billion annually in the UK alone. To help, they launched a Sleep and Recovery Toolkit aimed at employers. Appearing as part of a wider initiative to help organisations support the mental and physical health of their employees, the guide emphasises the role of managers when it comes to supporting staff who suffer from sleepless nights. 
Aiming to be a practical resource for employers, the document offers information and advice on dealing with sleep loss among employees, including allowing staff flexitime, working from home and granting additional holiday time. The guide also highlights discussions around female-centric sleep issues such as pregnancy and the menopause, as well as sleep deprivation among first-time parents.
Advertisement

More from Wellness

R29 Original Series