Is Lack Of Sleep Harming Men’s Health?

This week is Sleep Awareness Week (1-7 October 2017), but what has sleep got to do with men’s health? Well, according to the Sleep Health Foundation, sleep problems can be bad for our health, just like other commonly cited risk factors such as obesity, smoking, drinking too much and not exercising enough. Research has also found are also some notable differences between men’s and women’s experiences of sleep problems.

Sleep disorders have been linked to a variety of health problems and chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and erectile dysfunction.

Sleep problems also have a social and economic impact. They have been linked to an increased risk of motor vehicle and workplace accidents, two common forms of injury that mostly affect men.

Furthermore, problems with sleep are associated with decreasing workplace performance and productivity and are estimated to cost the economy more than $5B.

Men Are 3.5 Times More Likely To Have Sleep Apnea 

While both men and women can suffer sleep problems, there are some notable differences with men being three-and-a-half times more likely to be diagnosed sleep apnea (12.9% of men compared with 3.7% of women).

The gender gaps in other sleep problems like insomnia, snoring, breathing pauses and daytime symptoms, are less pronounced.

For example, women (23.2%) are more likely to report having insomnia than men (16.7%), while loud snoring (which is other associated with other sleep-related symptoms) is reported by 24% of men and 17% of women.

More generally, women (40%) are more likely than men (26%) to experience difficulty in falling asleep. However, the amount of time spent sleeping and the use of prescribed sleep medications does not differ between the sexes.

Men See Doctors As Main Source Of Support

One of the common gender stereotypes about health is that men are reluctant to consult a doctor. However, according to 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults, men with sleep problems are slightly more likely to say they would talk to a doctor about the problem (48.5% compared with 46.1%).

(Illustration source:  body+soul 2018 Men’s Health Report)

Some of the key sex/gender differences found in the 2016 Sleep Health Survey include:

  • Women (21%) are more likely than men (14%) report being late to work because of lack sleep related problem. On the other hand, men (21%) are more likely to say they have fallen asleep at work than women (13%).
  • Both men (22%) and women (27%) report missing social activities as a result of being too sleepy or a having sleep problem.
  • One-fifth of adults (22% men, 17% women) have nodded off while driving, with slightly more women (5.8%) than men (5.3%) admitting they’ve have had a motor vehicle accident in the past year because they dozed off or were too tired.
  • More men (44%) supplement their night-time sleep with weekly naps than women (36%), though women who nap are more likely to sleep for an hour or more than men (26% compared with 16%).
  • For 1 in 7 men and women, a partner’s sleep problem has a moderate or significant effect on the couple’s relationship and 20.1% men and 26% of women have lost sleep due to partner’s sleep problem.
  • A similar number of men (23.1%) and women (24.2%) say they have a sleep problem

Different Ways Men and Women Cope With Sleep Problems

The 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults also examined the different ways that men and women cope with sleep problems and found the following:

  • Men are slightly more likely to assume their sleep problem will go away in time (28% compared with 26.2%) and slightly more likely to do nothing (11.3% compared with 9.6%)
  • Women are nearly 50% more likely to use over-the-counter remedies (12% compared to 8.3% for men) and nearly 70% more likely to self-treat with other remedies (14% to 8.3% for men)
  • Men on the other hand are around 40% more likely to use alcohol to help them sleep (21.1% compared with 15.1% for women) and men with sleep problems are nearly three-and-a-half times more likely to drink 15 alcoholic drinks or more per week than women (10.7% compared with 3.1%)

According to Dr David Hillman, a director of the Sleep Health Foundation, “sleep is not the national health priority it needs to be. Just like obesity, smoking, drinking too much and not exercising enough, sleep problems cause real harm in our community.”

Dr Hillman says “it’s high time we moved this issue off the backburner to the forefront of national thinking.”

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Credit: main photo by Arthur Savary on Unsplash

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