Higher education may help women sleep better at night, but it may have the opposite effect on men.

Worldwide, women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia as men, but a new study suggests that the more educated a woman is, the less likely she is to lose sleep.

Researchers say that although biology is important in affecting insomnia risk, the results suggest that social factors such as educational achievement may also play a minor role.

Social Factors and Insomnia

In the study, which appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers surveyed nearly 40,000 men and women in Taiwan.

The participants answered questions about their marital status, employment, educational attainment, household income, and the number of children living in the home. Insomnia symptoms were also measured and scored on a scale from 1 to 5.

Overall, women averaged 1.25 points higher on the insomnia scale than men regardless of socioeconomic status. However, the study also showed that insomnia was more common among both men and women who are in these categories:

—Older
—Divorced/separated
—Low educational status
—Poor health
—Smoker
—Low income
—Living with children at home

In contrast, the study showed that students and regular exercisers tended to report better sleep quality.

Sex Differences in Insomnia

Researchers say some of these social factors also appeared to affect women more strongly.

For example, unemployment and being divorced or separated had a more negative effect on women's sleep quality and increased their risk of insomnia.

But although higher educational achievement improved women's sleep quality at night, researchers found it had the opposite effect on men.

Researchers say social factors can't fully explain the differences between the sexes in insomnia risk and sleep disturbances, but these findings warrant further study.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Chen, Y. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, May 24, 2005; vol 59: pp 488-494.