If your wife or a woman colleague snarls at you this morning, lack of sleep may be to blame.

Females need far more sleep than men and suffer more mentally and physically if forced to go without it, research suggests.

Lack of sleep can also put them at higher risk of heart disease, depression and psychological problems.

Women whose sleep is regularly disturbed - or particularly those who have difficulty falling asleep - are more likely to have higher levels in their blood of a substance linked to Type 2 diabetes.

Men's health, however, appears to be far less dependent on how well they sleep.

Researchers from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, asked 210 healthy men and women without diagnosed sleep disorders to fill out a questionnaire on the quality of their sleep.

The volunteers were assessed for levels of depression, anger, hostility and how much social support they had.

Blood samples were also analysed.

Around 40 per cent of the participants were classified as poor sleepers.

While there was little difference in sleep quality between the sexes, the women were found to have suffered much more when deprived of sleep.

The scientists found among their female subjects that sleeping problems - poor sleep quality, difficulty falling asleep more than two nights a week, or taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep - were also linked to higher levels of fibrinogen, a clotting factor that has been tied to stroke.

Women with sleeping problems also tended to exhibit higher levels of various markers tied to the inflammation which can lead to thickening of the arteries and increased risk of heart disease.

Those who slept poorly also reported more symptoms of depression, hostility and anger.

But the men with sleeping problems showed no increased risk of the conditions that were affecting the women.

Dr Edward Suarez, associate professor in Duke's department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, said: "This is the first empirical evidence that supports what we have observed about the role of gender and its effects upon sleep and health.

"The study suggests that poor sleep - measured by the total amount of sleep, the degree of awakening during the night, and most importantly, how long it takes to get to sleep - may have more serious health consequences for women than for men.

"We found that for women, poor sleep is strongly associated with high levels of psychological distress, and greater feelings of hostility, depression and anger.

"In contrast, these feelings were not associated with the same degree of sleep disruption in men."

He added: "The results were so dramatic that 33 per cent of the women who were poor sleepers had protein levels associated with a high risk of heart disease.

"Interestingly, it appears that it's not so much the overall sleep quality that was associated with greater risk, but rather the length of time it takes a person to fall asleep that takes the highest toll.

"Women who reported taking half an hour or more to fall asleep showed the worst risk profile."

Dr Suarez said the differences between men and women could be attributed to variations in the activity of the number of naturallyoccurring substances in the body, such as the amino acid tryptophan, the neurotransmitter serotonin, and the hormone melatonin.

"All of these substances are known to affect mood, sleep, onset of sleep, inflammation and insulin resistance," he said.

"Improvements in sleep as a means of reducing risk for cardiovascular disease may prove particularly important in women."

The study was published online in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.