Sleep Tips for Men and Everyone
Why Men need Sleep too
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 15-20% less sleep.
This has important health consequences for short term 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 between sleeping less than 7 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 in 2012[i] showed that almost 30% of men got less than 6 hours of sleep per night. One reason that men may get less sleep than women may pertain to unwillingness to go to have an early bedtime. Another is that men may be more prone to certain sleep disorders.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more 3.5 times common in men than women. It is diagnosed when your airway closes off during sleep and causes you to stop breathing. The low oxygen level in your body sounds the alarm and wakes you 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 who 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 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 1 month of sleep restriction but recovers in about 1 week of sleep being restored.
We can learn a lot by trying to understand how our ancestor’s slept. Before electric lights that influenced our circadian rhythm and before the industrial revolution that valued productivity over sleep, it is believed that most people slept in 2 phases. This helps us with 2 healthy sleep habits.
1. Be mindful about light exposure
2. Don’t worry so much when you wake up in the middle of the night
You can help your body 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 1-2 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 1-2 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 sleep. 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 you can’t sleep, try getting up, doing a relaxing activity with the lights low and get back into bed when you feel sleepy.
More sleep tips
1. Avoid caffeine and alcohol
2. Exercise and see the sun during the day
3. Get in bed early enough to get enough rest
4. Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day
5. Keep your bed for only sleep an intimacy (don’t read, watch TV or worry in bed)
6. Incorporate a relaxing bedtime routine to wind down
7. Sleep in a cool environment
8. Keep electronics out of the bedroom
How much sleep do we really need to be healthy? It is controversial exactly how much sleep is the Goldilocks amount of sleep. For most adults it is between 7-9 hours. An optimal goal for healthy sleep is to regularly wake up without an alarm feeling refreshed. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have sleep apnea, or if your sleep doesn’t improve after making some healthy changes.
[i] Earl S. Ford, MD, MPH, Timothy J. Cunningham, ScD, Janet B. Croft, PhD, Trends in Self-Reported Sleep Duration among US Adults from 1985 to 2012, Sleep, Volume 38, Issue 5, 1 May 2015, Pages 829–832, https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4684