Why Men Need Sleep AlsoMay 31, 2022 09:30AM ● By Julia Snyder
It turns out that sleep isn’t just for beauty. Sleep is not only essential for health, it is essential for life. Sleep is important for every system in our body including our heart, brain and hormonal systems. Unfortunately, sleep experts say that we are in a world epidemic of sleep deprivation. The average sleep time has gone down from 7.9 to 6.5 hours over the past 100 years. This means that humans are getting 15 to 20 percent less sleep.
This has important health consequences for both short- and long-term health. For instance, in the short-term, worsening of emotional regulation, memory and coordination all contribute to an increased risk of a motor vehicle accident. Correlations of sleeping less than seven hours per night have been found with increasing risk for chronic disease like cancer, obesity and dementia. Sleep deprivation also increases risk for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, men sleep less on average than women and therefore may be more at risk. One study published in Sleep in 2015 showed that almost 30 percent of men between 1985 and 2012 got less than six hours of sleep per night. One reason that men may get less sleep than women may pertain to an unwillingness to have an early bedtime. Another is that men may be more prone to certain sleep disorders.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more than 3.5 times more common in men than women. It is diagnosed when our airway closes off during sleep and causes us to stop breathing. The low oxygen level in our body sounds the alarm and wakes us up. The low oxygen, stress and interrupted sleep puts people at higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and depression. In men, there is also a strong link to erectile dysfunction. Men that get less sleep are also more likely to have problems with fertility. Poor sleep is also predictive of marital difficulties, arguments and even how people rate the quality of their marriage.
The good news is that managing these problems and sleeping better improves health outcomes and quality of life. For example, erectile function can improve with CPAP treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Insulin resistance, a risk for Type 2 diabetes, develops in less than one month of sleep restriction, but recovers in about one week of proper sleep being restored.
We can learn a lot by trying to understand how our ancestor’s slept. Before both electric lights that influenced our circadian rhythm and the Industrial Revolution that valued productivity over sleep, it is believed that most people slept in two phases. This helps us with two healthy sleep habits:
- Be mindful about light exposure
- Don’t worry so much about waking up in the middle of the night
Follow a more natural circadian rhythm by getting bright light exposure first thing in the morning. This especially includes the blue, green and violet light from the sun that help prepare our bodies to make serotonin for the daytime. In the evening, try creating an artificial dusk by dimming the lights one to two hours before bed and turning off screens. Take LED light bulbs out of the bedroom and replace them with warmer color lights. If needed, consider wearing special sleep goggles that block blue, green and violet light about one to two hours before bed. Sleep in the dark and use room darkening shades or an eye mask if needed. This helps optimize our melatonin production.
Avoid sedatives to aid in sleeping. Men are more likely than women to use alcohol to help with sleep. This can increase health risks and further disrupt the quality of sleep and increase risk for breathing problems like sleep apnea. Instead, if one can’t sleep, try getting up, doing a relaxing activity with the lights low and get back into bed when feeling sleepy.
More sleep tips:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Exercise and see the sun during the day
- Get in bed early enough to get enough rest
- Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day
- Keep the bed for only sleep and intimacy (don’t read, watch TV or worry in bed)
- Incorporate a relaxing bedtime routine to wind down
- Sleep in a cool environment
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom
When it comes to how much sleep we really need to be healthy, it’s controversial exactly how much sleep is the Goldilocks amount. For most adults, it is between seven to nine hours. An optimal goal for healthy sleep is to regularly wake up without an alarm feeling refreshed. Talk to a doctor if we think we may have sleep apnea, or if our sleep doesn’t improve after making some healthy changes.
Julia Snyder, M.D., specializes in Whole Person Care at Golden Light Integrative & Holistic Medicine. Location: 703 E. Main St., Moorestown. For more information, visit GoldenLightMD.com.