Sleep is an extremely vital part of living a healthy life, it is just as important as diet and exercise are to living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Many people do not realize how vital this daily process is for the human body to reset, rest, and heal itself. When the body is asleep, the physical body is resting, but the mind and brain are still actively working. Sleep is more than just a time to lay down, the body engages in a number of important processes while it sleeps. When the natural sleep cycle is interrupted, and the body begins to become sleep deprived, some side effects begin to occur that can be potentially dangerous. Some potential side effects of getting too little sleep include daytime sleepiness, increased accidents, inability or difficulty concentrating, increased sickness, weight gain, and poor performance in the workplace or school. Nearly 40 million men and women in America suffer from sleep disorders. These sleep problems affect their everyday life and overall health. To help you understand the impact of sleep on men, we have put together an overview that includes what normal male sleeping patterns are, the most common effects of sleep loss and deprivation on men, how to find the right mattress, and health tips for men to get a better night of sleep.
An Overview of Normal Male Sleeping Patterns
There are significant misinformation and conjecture regarding normal sleeping patterns for both men and women. These misconceptions are fueled further by popular culture and the perpetuation of common sleeping myths. One question you have probably asked yourself is, “Do women need more sleep than men?” When researching normal male sleeping patterns, this comparison to female sleeping patterns often comes up. While there is significant overlap between the sleeping patterns of men and women, there are some differences as well. To help you understand normal male sleeping patterns, and how they compare to normal female sleeping patterns, we have compiled a brief overview to help you build a foundational understanding.
For both men and women, the body requires sleep to maintain optimal functionality and health. The body requires sleep each night to restore itself and the mind. Prior generations have primarily believed that sleep is an inactive brain state, but this began to be debunked by the era of modern sleep research in the early 1920s. While it was once believed that the brain shut down each night during sleep only to be reawakened in the morning, it is now known that sleep is a dynamic state. As research surrounding sleep advanced, scientists began to recognize that the brain experiences characteristic patterns of activity throughout each stage of sleep. In fact, in some states of sleep, the brain is more active than when you are awake. By having an understanding of the different patterns of sleep and how various factors affect them, it is possible to adjust your daily lifestyle to improve your quality of sleep.
The Main Stages of Sleep
While individuals recognize the body’s need to sleep each night, many people do not understand exactly what happens to the body as they sleep. The architecture of sleep is comprised of a pattern that alternates between rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Throughout a typical night of sleep, the body will undergo a cycle that repeats itself approximately every ninety minutes. NREM sleep accounts for seventy-five percent of the night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, below are the roles of each state and stage of sleep and the effect they have on the body.
N1 (formerly "stage 1")
- Between being awake and falling asleep
- Light sleep
N2 (formerly "stage 2")
- Onset of sleep
- Becoming disengaged from surroundings
- Breathing and heart rate are regular
- Body temperature drops (so sleeping in a cool room is helpful)
N3 (formerly "stages 3 and 4")
- Deepest and most restorative sleep
- Blood pressure drops
- Breathing becomes slower
- Muscles are relaxed
- Blood supply to muscles increases
- Tissue growth and repair occurs
- Energy is restored
- Hormones are released, such as growth hormone, essential for growth and development, including muscle development
REM (25% of the night): First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night.
- Provides energy to brain and body
- Supports daytime performance
- The brain is active and dreams occur
- Eyes dart back and forth
- The body becomes immobile and relaxed, as muscles are turned off
With this understanding in mind, it is now possible to explore the differences between male and female sleeping patterns.
Male vs. Female Sleeping Patterns
Though the recommended sleep parameters are often the same for men and women (seven to eight hours of sleep per night), there are often differences between the sleep patterns of men and women. As mentioned above, there is often a correlation made that women require more sleep than men, but is there any truth to that commonly held belief? It turns out, there is. Women do often require more sleep than men, but it may not be for the reason you think. Women often experience lighter sleep during the night, which can be more easily disrupted. In addition, many women have undiagnosed sleep disorders. Another potential cause of this shift is that women’s bodies undergo different hormonal cycles than men’s bodies. Many biological conditions are unique to women, like experiencing a menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause. All of these natural processes affect the levels of hormones in a woman’s body, like estrogen and progesterone, which can have an impact on female sleep patterns. While women experience more easily disrupted sleep due to hormonal processes, men are more likely to experience snoring due to air passages that are often narrower than women’s nasal passages. Both men and women alike are likely to experience disrupted sleep due to periods of stress in their life.
Common Impacts of Sleep Loss/Deprivation on Men
Sleep loss or deprivation can have a tremendous impact on men’s overall health and cognitive function. Below are a handful of the most common effects of sleep loss and deprivation on male health and bodily function.
- Lack of Sleep Can Cause Serious Health Problems: Sleep is a dynamic state that is necessary for the body to maintain healthy bodily function. Sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes.
- Lack of Sleep Decreases Cognitive Ability and Mental Acuity: Sleep is essential to learning and thinking, and a lack of sleep can cause these cognitive processes to be negatively affected. Sleep deprivation results in decreased alertness, attention, reasoning skills, ability to problem solve, and concentration. When these processes are impaired, the ability to learn decreases significantly. In addition, as you sleep at night, your mind consolidates and stores memories from the day. When the body experiences a lack of sleep, the ability to save these memories and retain information becomes impaired.
- Lack of Sleep Increases Risk of an Accident: Sleep deprivation has caused some of the biggest disasters in recent history, including the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. While these may not be the type of accidents you could experience in your day-to-day life, there is still a heightened risk of an accident due to a lack of sleep. Many people drive their car each day but do not know that drowsiness can slow reaction times as much as being inebriated. Fatigue is a major cause of road accidents and crash-related deaths. In addition, a lack of sleep leads to increased accidents and injuries in the workplace.
- Lack of Sleep Negatively Affects Your Skin: One thing many people do not realize about sleep loss is the tremendous impact it can have on skin health and appearance. After several nights without enough sleep, the skin surrounding the eyes will begin to appear puffy, and the skin will appear sallow. However, over time as sleep deprivation continues, the skin can begin to appear lackluster, and the appearance of fine lines and dark circles under the eyes will increase. When your body does not receive the sleep it needs, it begins to release cortisol, which is a stress hormone. This excess cortisol can break down skin collagen, which helps keep the skin looking young, smooth, and elastic.
- Lack of Sleep Negatively Affects Men’s Sexual Health: Many men do not realize how vital adequate sleep is to their sexual health. When a man sleeps, the body releases testosterone during sleep. Testosterone is extremely vital to men’s sexual health as it drives libido and erectile function. When a man does not get adequate quality and quantity of sleep, his testosterone levels begin to decrease. In addition, obstructive sleep apnea in men has been linked with erectile dysfunction.
- Lack of Sleep is Linked to Increased Weight Gain: Weight gain is another negative impact that can arise from sleep loss or deprivation. There is a correlation between a lack of sleep and an increase in hunger and appetite. According to a study conducted in 2004, those who slept less than six hours per day were almost thirty percent more likely to become obese than other individuals who got seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Peptides play a role in how the body regulates appetite with ghrelin stimulating hunger and leptin signaling satiety. When a shortened amount of sleep is experienced, there is a decrease in leptin and an elevation of ghrelin.
Tips to Improve Sleep
There are many simple steps both men and women can integrate into their everyday routines to improve sleep quality and quantity. Below are a handful of simple tips to implement in your life to improve your sleep and overall health.
- Make a Sleep Schedule (And Stick To It): Your body has an internal clock that regulates its processes. To improve your body’s sleep patterns, stick to the same sleep schedule of bedtime and wake up time (even on the weekends).
- Exercise Daily: Incorporating daily exercise into your life will not only improve your sleep, but it will also have a positive impact on your overall health. Vigorous activity is best, but even light exercise will help push you closer to ideal sleep.
- Turn Off Electronics: While it can be tempting to keep your show running until you fall asleep, your chances of sleeping soundly are significantly increased if you turn off all electronics in your vicinity when you are ready to go to sleep. This will help your body and mind relax and will prevent the blue light emitted from your devices from disrupting your body’s ability to sleep soundly.
- Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment: Turning off electronics is one part of creating an ideal sleeping environment, but many other steps should be taken as well. To sleep effectively, set the temperature in your room between sixty and sixty-seven degrees as the colder temperature will help you drift into a deeper sleep. In addition, make sure that your sleeping environment is free from distracting noise that may wake you up during the night. If you are still having difficulty sleeping, consider adding other elements to your sleeping environments, such as a humidifier, blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, or a fan.
Invest in a High-Quality Natural Mattress and Pillows: Many people do not realize how vital it is to a quality night of sleep to have a mattress and pillows that are supportive and comfortable. Many people keep mattresses and pillows long past when they are intended, and a low-quality mattress may contain chemicals and allergens that negatively impact sleep patterns and quality of sleep. To get a better night of sleep, invest in a high-quality mattress and pillows that are crafted using organic materials that are free from harsh chemicals and fire retardants. By understanding which pillow is best for your sleep style, you will be on your way to achieving a restful night sleep.