National Men’s Health Week: Why Sleep is Critical to Your Health
National Men’s Health Week is honored in the week preceding Father’s Day, with a goal of increasing awareness of common preventable health problems and to encourage men to take care of their health. We know that there is a strong link between sleep and health, and in fact, the CDC lists “Get Good Sleep” at the top of their list of ways to celebrate Men’s Health Week.
Why do Men Lack Sleep?
There are a multitude of reasons men might not be getting the recommended amount of sleep – work, family obligations, stress, a bad sleep environment or worn-out mattress, or other health issues. But, a study that analyzed the American Time Use Survey showed that U.S. men sleep fewer hours than women and that men are more likely to exchange sleep hours for work hours.
It might seem necessary to choose work over sleep at times, but long-term sleep deprivation causes such negative health consequences that this turns out to be a bad trade. In truth, one of the benefits of sleep and developing healthy sleep habits is better work attendance and performance. It makes sense – you can’t do your best work if you’re too sick to show up or if your mind isn’t able to focus.
Some men view sleep as some sort of weakness, or feel that staying up late to work or to socialize is the only way they can get ahead in our society. The reality is that sleep deprivation isn’t a badge of honor or a sign that you’re more dedicated than someone else; it’s actually a serious threat to your health.
Health Risks Associated with Poor Sleep
- Heart Disease: Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per day, and insufficient sleep has been clinically linked to numerous chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension, depression and diabetes. For example, a Dutch study of more than 20,000 people found that those who don’t get the recommended amount of sleep are at a 23% higher risk of coronary heart disease. Another sleep study showed that a lack of sleep can increase a man’s risk to develop signs of colon cancer by an astonishing 50%.
- Obesity: Obesity is a major issue that can result from poor sleep, and may be exacerbated by the fact that men who don’t sleep enough have been found to have higher levels of certain hormones that cause hunger and can lead to overeating. When you are tired, you may be tempted to eat or drink more in order to gain energy, and you gain weight as a result.
- Decreased Testosterone Levels: Sleep deprivation also lowers testosterone levels in men, which can lead to fatigue, inability to focus, decreased muscle mass, a diminished sex drive, and can even reduce sperm count by 25-30%.
- Weak Immune System: Researchers have hypothesized that many of these negative health effects might be caused by the fact that lack of sleep disrupts the body’s natural immune system. Similar to the effect of experiencing large amounts of stress, a lack of sleep lowers white blood cell counts and, over time, makes us more susceptible to disease.
How to Sleep Better
Just like your quality of sleep affects so many different aspects of your life, many things you do during the day can have a positive or negative effect on your sleep. Avoid late-night snacks on unhealthy foods that might cause overnight heartburn. Staying active with regular exercise helps adults, especially those in middle-age, sleep better.
It’s not just the men who benefit from living a healthy lifestyle – your spouse, your children, your colleagues and your community are all better off when you make your own health a priority, and that starts with making sleep health a priority.