Men and women are joyously different. The adventurous complementarity those differences create pops out when you investigate sex, sleep and rest. All three are necessary to many of the great pleasures of life:
Who sleeps better? Women -- but only in the laboratory. Women generally sleep deeper and with less interruptions than man in an artificial setting.
Real life? Well, that's a whole separate ball game. Women get pregnant, which can really wreck sleep. Women still provide the majority of child care and infants don't know about biological clocks, while children possess their own. The result: mommies wake up a lot. Menstruating women often wake at night and have a hard time getting back to sleep. Then there are school schedules which pay no attention to the large rest needs of children and adolescents, without which their brains won't properly learn. When menstruation finally ebbs hot flashes begin, waking women with drenching sweats oozing from every pore. Add on jobs, often multiple during an economic crisis, housework and and the care of elderly parents, and American women are lucky to average six-and-a-half hours sleep a night.
Ouch. At that level of sleep, women will not learn very well (sleep is required for memory consolidation, the remixing of old and new information), will be prone to more colds and infections, get more heart disease, have worsened moods and a greater tendency towards major depression, and, a true horror, tend to gain weight. No wonder sleep is a feminist issue.
The guys are doing a bit better, but not by a huge amount. American men, especially younger ones, are doing a lot more child rearing than they did. But there's now an interesting side effect -- their wives are so exhausted that they tend to give their husbands little credit for helping take care of the kids.
In this economy things probably won't change until people realize that sleep and rest renew the body, and that they need rest as much as food. With enough sleep people are happier, funnier, more productive socially and economically, and a heck of a lot healthier.
There's thinking, and then there's doing.
Men think about sex a lot, especially when young -- more than women. But young married American twentysomething couples may only be having sex once a week. In the recent iVillage survey, 63 percent of married women preferred sleep, TV and reading to sex with hubby.
Bottom line: both men and women think about sex far more than they do it.
For researchers, male sexual arousal is a blast. You can figure out men quickly and accurately. Women's sexual arousal is so unpredictable researchers get frustrated. After sexual arousal, men often fall asleep (le petit mort, or "little death"); once sexually climaxed, women continue to feel fully aroused; men and women often have sex just before sleep -- yet another reason for female insomnia.
The solution is to have sex when both partners are fully awake and alert so that sex becomes a mutual, sustaining peak experience rather than a male sleeping pill. Sunday afternoons can be extremely enjoyable, and for those more adventurous, there is always REM sex (dreamy early morning sex during male testosterone peaks).
Active rest techniques are greatly underplayed, as people think of rest as sleep and TV watching. The reality is that active rest is activating, letting you help control how your body rebuilds and renews.
But, women prefer social rest -- social connection is a large, enduring factor in their lives, something men often cannot understand.
Physical rest: Women like yoga, deep breathing; men seem to prefer more physical activities, like walking through a park during lunchtime, an active rest technique which causes the production of more brain cells, in memory areas, during sleep.
Spiritual rest: Both men and women enjoy meditation, but women do it far more often; men are more prone to report reaching a state of awe and transcendence.
Sex, Sleep and Rest
Different as they are, men and women often desire the same things -- intimacy, pleasure, passion. All are possible through sex, sleep and rest.
And all three deeply influence each other. Sex can be a wonderful form of social rest. Well-rested couples enjoy sex far more. But well-rested couples enjoy life a lot more. And when couples enjoy the many different kinds of active rest together, they obtain new kinds of peak experiences.
So forget those headlines declaring sleep is the new sex. The new sex is rest, rest in its many different forms -- physical, mental, social and spiritual -- of which sleep is just a specialized part. Sex is just one old way to reach peak experiences you never had before.