An Overview of the Fatigue-Gender Nexus
Fatigue is a feeling or state of constant exhaustion and unwellness. It can feel like being drained out of energy. Fatigue can be both, physical as well as mental, and sometimes can also be both. Men and women experience fatigue differently, which can be due to various factors, including biological, psychological, sociocultural, physiological, and many more. These differences in experiencing symptoms of fatigue in men and women are often referred to as the fatigue-gender nexus. Considering some factors, we can say that women experience more fatigue than men, while some other factors reflect men experiencing more fatigue symptoms than women.
Let us take a read further to understand how men and women experience fatigue differently.
Understanding How Men and Women Experience Fatigue Differently
To understand how men and women experience fatigue differently, we should consider looking at some of these essential factors.
Are the Biological Differences Between Men and Women a Reason Behind the Fatigue-Gender Nexus?
One of the most important factors that should be considered while exploring the connection between fatigue and gender differences is the biological factor. Men and women have certain biological differences, and these differences can contribute to the way they experience fatigue differently. For instance, women experience significant hormonal fluctuations, especially during pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. These imbalances in hormones in women can affect energy levels and cause fatigue in women.
Some studies have shown women report greater trait levels of fatigue compared to men. (1, 2) Biological factors, such as menstruation, and pregnancy, along with social context, such as taking care of babies, can cause elevated levels of fatigue in women than men. However, this was reported only when women were 70 years or above.(3, 4) This suggests that age can also interact with gender and fatigue experienced by individuals.
Does the Circadium Rhythm Have to Do Something With the Fatigue-Gender Nexus?
Results from the CDC research state that between 2010 and 2011, 15% of women and only 10% of men reported they felt extremely tired.(5) This gender difference was particularly large among individuals in the age group 18 to 44 years. These findings add to other research that suggests that women are more likely to experience sleep disorders, including chronic fatigue syndrome and insomnia.(6)
Although it is still not very clear why women tend to have more sleep problems, the reason could likely related to certain biological and social problems. Mostly, in many families, women are the ones who remain awake taking care of screaming babies or children in the middle of the night. This could be one reason why they might be suffering from sleep deprivation, thus resulting in fatigue symptoms.
Studies have also found in couples who share a bed, men are more likely to disturb their spouses. It could be possibly because the circadian rhythm in women is about six minutes shorter than men’s circadian rhythm. Thus, women are usually wired to fall asleep and wake up earlier than men. So, when women sleep at the same time as their male partners, they might be messing up with their circadian rhythm, which could be one reason they might be left feeling fatigued.(7)
Could the Psychological Factors be a Reason Behind Men and Women Experiencing Fatigue Differently?
Societal expectations and certain stereotypes related to men can be one of the reasons why men are less likely to express their stress or fatigue issues or seek assistance for the same. However, women might be quite open about discussing their problems related to stress, depression, or the general feeling of fatigue or unwellness.
Studies have also pointed out that men are less likely than women to acknowledge, speak about, and seek treatments or help for depression.(8) Depression can make them feel as if they have no or extremely low energy left with them.
NOTE: It is essential to seek medical help for treating conditions of stress and depression.
How True it Could be That the Physiological Factors are Involved in Fatigue-Gender Nexus?
The differences between the body composition of both men and women are quite well known. Men, usually have proportionately more muscle mass, bone mass, and a lower percentage of body fat than women.(9) There are also differences in physical stamina and endurance between men and women. These variations in the physiological features of both genders can be a factor influencing how fatigue is experienced during exercise or physical activities.
A surprising thing to know is that women can be less fatigable than men due to sex-related differences within their neuromuscular system that impact their physiological adjustments during an activity that could cause fatigue (for example exercising).(10)
NOTE: Despite women being less fatigable when compared with men during several fatiguing activities, women can experience greater perception of pain during exercise.(11)
Is it the Differences in Sociocultural Factors That Makes Men and Women Experience Fatigue Differently?
To understand how men and women experience fatigue differently, we should also take sociocultural factors into account. Women can suffer from an increased level of fatigue than men because of various reasons including professional and family (personal) responsibilities, and also cultural or social norms. For example, even in most advanced countries, women often play multiple roles in their lives, such as caregiving persons, working professionals, and many more. This could be one of the reasons of increased symptoms of fatigue in women.
Although the gender difference in European countries is currently small, work-family conflict has been more common in women.(12) Women still perform most of their household work in families compared to men.(13) On average, women spend twenty-six hours taking care of children and elderly relatives, while men spend just nine hours.(14)
There are research and studies on how men and women experience fatigue differently. The fatigue-gender nexus highlights the significance of recognizing and addressing gender-related differences in how symptoms of fatigue are experienced and managed by both genders. A thorough understanding of this can lead to the development of various stress and fatigue management strategies in workplaces, healthcare, and support systems, which could ultimately be beneficial for everyone, regardless of their gender.
- Sex-based differences in physiology: what should we teach in the medical curriculum? | Advances in Physiology Education
- Sex Differences and Mechanisms of Task-Specific Muscle Fatigue – PMC (nih.gov)