Women’s REM sleep differences cause negative emotions and depression - research findings

By Andrew Sokol


It is a well known fact that a person’s mood largely depends on the quality of sleep.

Belgian scientists have shown that gender differences in information processing during sleep and wakefulness can explain the higher probability of developing depression among women.

The aim of the research was to study gender differences during slow and fast sleep phases within the SWN (small-world network) organization concept.

The presence of an optimal SWN organization is associated with a more efficient functioning of the cognitive system, while changes in the SWN structure indicate the occurrence of cognitive dysfunctions.

Male and Female differences

Gender is a key factor in the interindividual differences of the human brain.

There is some evidence in the scientific literature in favor of the modulating effect of sex hormones on the structural and functional parameters of intracerebral connections.

In particular, the brain level of androgens (testosterone) promotes an increase in intrahemispheric (within the limits of one hemisphere) functional connection in men, while female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) increase the interhemispheric (between hemispheres) connections of the female brain.

Among other things, sexual brain dimorphism is characterized by the presence of specific patterns / characteristics of the SWN organization, which probably reflects gender differences in the processing of information and cognitive functions associated with sleep (such as memory and regulation of emotions).

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The results of the research showed that between men and women there really are certain differences in the context of global and local information processing during sleep.

Significant gender differences in the SWN activity during nREM sleep and wakefulness were not observed. The difference was detected only during REM sleep.

The study also showed that women have a longer delay in sleep onset and less overall sleep compared to men.

It is interesting to note that these differences in REM architecture induce and support cognitive distortions, which play a key role in the pathophysiology of depression.


Thus, the organization of SWN is a vulnerability marker to mood disorders specifically among women.

The presence of certain differences of women’s REM sleep capable of / may predispose them to the development of subclinical symptoms of depression (including negative self-esteem and the consolidation of negative emotions during the night) contributing to the appearance of mood disorders.

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