Sex differences in sleep: impact of biological sex and sex steroids

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Feb 19;371(1688):20150110. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0110. Epub 2016 Feb 1.


Men and women sleep differently. While much is known about the mechanisms that drive sleep, the reason for these sex differences in sleep behaviour is unknown and understudied. Historically, women and female animals are underrepresented in studies of sleep and its disorders. Nevertheless, there is a growing recognition of sex disparities in sleep and rhythm disorders. Women typically report poorer quality and more disrupted sleep across various stages of life. Findings from clinical and basic research studies strongly implicate a role for sex steroids in sleep modulation. Understanding how neuroendocrine mediators and sex differences influence sleep is central to advancing our understanding of sleep-related disorders. The investigation into sex differences and sex steroid modulation of sleep is in its infancy. Identifying the mechanisms underlying sex and gender differences in sleep will provide valuable insights leading to tailored therapeutics that benefit each sex. The goal of this review is to discuss our current understanding of how biological sex and sex steroids influence sleep behaviour from both the clinical and pre-clinical perspective.

Keywords: oestrogens; progesterone; sleep; sleep circuits; testosterone; ventrolateral preoptic area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Sleep / physiology*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones