Sex differences in sleep and influence of the menstrual cycle on women’s sleep in junior endurance athletes
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionPLOS ONE. 2021, 16 (6), e0253376. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0253376
Previous research shows that female athletes sleep better according to objective parameters but report worse subjective sleep quality than male athletes. However, existing sleep studies did not investigate variations in sleep and sleep stages over longer periods and have, so far, not elucidated the role of the menstrual cycle in female athletes’ sleep. To address these methodological shortcomings, we investigated sex differences in sleep and sleep stages over 61 continuous days in 37 men and 19 women and examined the role of the menstrual cycle and its phases in 15 women. Sleep was measured by a non-contact radar, and menstrual bleeding was self-reported. Associations were investigated with multilevel modeling. Overall, women tended to report poorer subjective sleep quality (p = .057), but objective measurements showed that women obtained longer sleep duration (p < .001), more light (p = .013) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM; hours (h): p < .001, %: p = .007), shorter REM latency (p < .001), and higher sleep efficiency (p = .003) than men. R2 values showed that sleep duration, REM and REM latency were especially affected by sex. Among women, we found longer time in bed (p = .027) and deep sleep (h: p = .036), and shorter light sleep (%: p = .021) during menstrual bleeding vs. non-bleeding days; less light sleep (h: p = .040), deep sleep (%: p = .013) and shorter REM latency (p = .011) during the menstrual than pre-menstrual phase; and lower sleep efficiency (p = .042) and more deep sleep (%: p = .026) during the follicular than luteal phase. These findings indicate that the menstrual cycle may impact the need for physiological recovery, as evidenced by the sleep stage variations. Altogether, the observed sex differences in subjective and objective sleep parameters may be related to the female athletes’ menstrual cycle. The paper provides unique data of sex differences in sleep stages and novel insights into the role of the menstrual cycle in sleep among female athletes.