Sleep & Men

For many men, sleep is just one more thing at the bottom of the list of all that needs to be done in a day. It seems like wasted time that prevents them from getting any work done. These wrong ideas about sleep keep men from tapping into the power of a well-rested mind and body.

In reality, sleeping is your most valuable activity of the day. The more you invest in your sleep, the bigger return you will see in everything else that you do.

Sleep allows your body to actively recharge itself and prepare for the next day. Sleeping well enables you to feel, think, and perform better. It allows you to maximize your time and your energy during the day.

The best way to do all that you want to do is to make sure that you get the sleep your body needs.

I. What Keeps Men from Getting Enough Sleep?

Lack of Awareness
Many men simply don’t realize that they need more sleep. They view sleepiness as a positive sign that they must be working hard. They get used to being tired, and they think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. They believe that they just have to fight through it.

Every person has their own need for sleep. This need varies from one person to another. On average, most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well rested.

Many men do not get this much sleep on a regular basis. As a result, they are not able to function at a maximum level of energy and concentration.

The following are signs that you are not getting enough sleep:

Sleeping in later is not an option for most people who have to be at work early in the morning. Not too many employers are going to let you take a daytime nap, either. The solution is to go to bed earlier.

Plan to go to bed early enough so that you will have seven to eight hours before you have to get up in the morning. Set it as a goal and make it a priority. After doing this for a while, you will have a better idea if you need even more than eight hours of sleep, or maybe less than seven, to feel refreshed when you wake up.

Work Demands
A man’s job can demand so much of his time that it doesn’t leave much room for sleep. In order to get ahead, you may feel like you have to put in extra hours at night, go in on the weekends, or be the first one there in the morning. A long commute through heavy traffic may take away even more of your free time.

Even when you are away from the job, your work can consume your time. You may have paperwork that you have to finish at home. Your cell phone won’t stop ringing. Your e-mail needs to be constantly checked. Before you are even aware of it, time has flown by and it is well past your normal bedtime.

The stress and pressure of a job can also affect your sleep. Each night might be filled with worries and anxiety about what is going to happen tomorrow. Your body wants to rest, but your mind won’t stop spinning.

As a result, you toss and turn in bed late into the night. Maybe you fall asleep quickly but wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. Before long, the alarm clock says that it’s time to get up and start the day.

You need to try your best to leave your work at work. As much as it is possible, don’t bring your job home with you. You need time away to relax both your body and your mind. Set boundaries and protect your personal free time.

This will be very hard if you work from home. You will need to find ways to get out of the house to relax and unwind.

You should also find a way to get your worries out of your system during the day. Talk to one of your buddies about them. Release them at the gym. Simply make sure that your bed is a place of rest, not worry.

Full Schedules
Many men have schedules that are filled with much more than just work. They go to the gym for a regular workout. They play sports or go see the local teams in action. They work on the car or on projects around the house. They are involved with a civic group, fraternal order, or local church.

Single men go on dates or out on the town with friends. Married men pick up the kids from practice or help them with their homework. The list of people, places, and things that can exhaust a man’s time is endless.

The key is to set priorities and balance your time. Take an honest look at your schedule to see if you are doing too much. Some things are more urgent than others. Not everything has to be done today, and not everything has to be done by you.

Some things that are important can still be re-arranged so that you make better use of your time. Other things may need to be scaled back so you don’t do them as often or for so long. Still other things that are not a high priority may need to be eliminated right now. You can always come back to them if you free up more time in your schedule down the road.

As you are deciding which activities are important, make sure that sleeping is one of them. Put it at the top of your list, not at the bottom.

Life Changes
Life is full of changes that can have a big impact upon how you sleep. Some changes you expect, but others catch you by surprise. Negative changes will tend to disturb your sleep the most.

But positive changes can affect you too. Along with excitement, good changes bring new duties and stress that can keep you up at night.

Examples of these kinds of changes include the following:

Examples of the negative changes that can greatly affect your sleep include the following:

These changes can cause you to have feelings of depression. For many men, it begins so slowly that they never become aware that they are depressed. Over time, it can progress to the point where despair is just a normal part of their lives.

Depression can greatly disrupt the quality of your sleep. You might lie in bed tossing and turning late into the night. You also might sleep for a long time with no motivation to get out of bed.

As poor sleep progresses, men stop taking care of their bodies in other ways. They stop eating and exercising regularly. They abuse alcohol and drugs. Overall, they may lose their usual interest and pleasure in the normal activities of daily life.

Men are more likely to keep these feelings of depression trapped inside. They don’t often deal with them openly. In some cases, these feelings one day explode in a violent outburst.

Depressed men often turn this violence on themselves. Statistics show that men are four times as likely as women to kill themselves.

Many men resist seeking help from a counselor. They fear that people will think something is “wrong” with them. They need to understand that these feelings are perfectly normal. But while they are normal, they can also be hazardous to their health.

If you are struggling with feelings of depression, then at least start by talking to a spouse, friend, doctor or minister. Any of them can help you decide if you need to see a counselor. Don’t fight this battle alone.

Bad Habits
Men can develop a number of habits that cause bad sleep. The use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine can all affect your sleep. You should avoid these substances in the afternoon and at night. Consuming them too close to your bedtime can keep you from sleeping well.

You may also eat big meals or exercise just before you go to bed. Both of these habits can also disturb your sleep. This can be hard to avoid if you have a lot going on in the evenings.

If needed, you might want to eat a bigger meal at lunch and a smaller meal for dinner. To fit in your workout, perhaps you can try to exercise before work or on your lunch break.

Men also may keep an irregular sleep schedule. They go to bed and wake up at different times every day. This can disrupt your internal body clock and keep you from sleeping soundly. You should try to wake up at the same time every day. This includes weekends and holidays. This will help to keep your internal clock set at the right time.

Try to avoid sleeping in later on the weekends to catch up on lost sleep. Instead, go to bed earlier at night when you are tired. You should also keep naps to less than one hour. Be sure to take them in the early afternoon so you are not wide awake at bedtime.

Medical Conditions
Many medical conditions can keep you from being able to sleep well. Some of these are only temporary. A sprained ankle, the flu, or minor surgery will disrupt your sleep for a short while. Other problems may stay with you for the rest of your life. These illnesses and medical conditions become more common as you grow older.

The following are examples of medical conditions that can greatly disturb your sleep:

Medications used to treat these and other problems can also hinder you from getting quality sleep. Some drugs might make you jittery and keep you up at night. Others will cause you to be very sleepy during the day.

Discuss these medications with your doctor. Changing the dose or when you take the drug might make a big difference for you.

II. What Sleep Disorders Affect Men?

There are many men who are unable to get quality sleep even though they spend enough time in bed each night. It may take them a long time to fall asleep. Their sleep may be disrupted and broken. They may sleep through the night but still feel tired the next day.

These are all signs of sleep disorders that are common to men. Most men who have a sleep disorder are unaware of it. Even when they are aware, many times they will not seek help for it.

Detecting and treating a sleep disorder can cause a dramatic improvement in your sleep. This will allow you to sleep your best at night and feel your best during the day.

These are some of the most common sleep disorders that affect men:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep. This keeps air from getting in to the lungs. This is very common, because the muscles inside the throat relax as you sleep.

Gravity then causes the tongue to fall back and block the airway. It can happen a few times a night or several hundred times per night.

These pauses in breathing briefly wake you up and disturb your sleep. This can cause you to be very tired the next day. Men are twice as likely as women to have OSA.

Being overweight and having a large neck size also greatly increase your risk of suffering from it. These men have more fatty tissue in their throat that can block their airway.

The primary signs of OSA are daytime sleepiness and loud snoring. Snoring is due to a partial blockage of the airway during sleep. It tends to increase as you age. There is a range of snoring from simple to severe.

Simple, primary snoring is “normal” and is mostly harmless. But loud, severe snoring with gasps and snorts is a cause for concern.

Many men do not even know that they snore. It is often a spouse or bed partner who detects the loud snoring problem.

Some men consider snoring to be a badge of honor. It is a sign of true masculinity. But they don’t realize that there are dangers that can come along with it.

Sleep apnea may make it hard for you to think or concentrate during the day. If left untreated, it may also put you at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.

Talk to your doctor if you snore loudly and are often tired during the day. He may refer you to a sleep specialist to find out if you have sleep apnea.

Losing weight and sleeping on one’s side may help in some mild cases of OSA. Severe sleep apnea requires medical treatment.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common way to treat OSA in adults. CPAP provides a gentle and steady flow of air through a mask that is worn over the nose. This keeps the airway open and prevents pauses in breathing as you sleep.

Surgery or the use of an oral appliance (similar to a sports mouth guard) may be a better option for some people.

Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is the term used to describe people who suffer from extreme sleepiness. It can cause you to suddenly fall asleep. These “sleep attacks” can happen while eating, walking or driving.

Narcolepsy usually starts between the ages of 12 and 20 and can last for your entire life. It does not get better without treatment.

Talk to your doctor if you are so tired that you might fall asleep at any time. He might refer you to a sleep specialist to find out if you have narcolepsy.

Medications can be used to treat narcolepsy and help you have a more normal pattern of being asleep and awake.

Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSP)
Busy work and social schedules can cause some men to get in the habit of going to bed very late. Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSP) is when you can only fall asleep a couple hours or more later than normal. This also causes you to have a hard time waking up early in the morning.

Your internal body clock makes you feel sleepy or alert at regular times every day. Everyone’s body has this natural timing system. A consistent habit of staying up and sleeping late can throw off the timing of your body clock. This can prevent you from being able to fall asleep at a decent time.

To correct DSP, try to avoid bright light in the late afternoon and evening. Keep the lights in the house dim and make your bedroom dark when you go to sleep. Then get plenty of bright sunlight in the morning and early afternoon.

This will help to keep your body clock set at the right time. The key is for your eyes to see the light. They send the signals to your brain that will be used to set your body clock. Your skin does not need to be exposed to the sunlight.

Jet lag disorder and shift work disorder
Your work conditions can also cause you to have jet lag or shift work disorders. Men who often travel long distances by airplane suffer from jet lag. A long trip quickly puts you in a place where you need to sleep and wake at a time that is different than what your internal body clock expects.

Your body clock does not have time to adjust right away to a new location due to the speed of the travel. This makes it very hard for you to sleep well.

Men who work rotating, early-morning or night shifts often suffer from shift work disorder. Your schedule requires you to work when your body wants to sleep. Then you have to try to sleep when your body expects to be awake. This causes you to have trouble sleeping and to be severely tired.

The use of melatonin supplements has been shown to help some people who suffer from jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone that is released by the brain at night. It seems to play a role in making you sleepy.

Light therapy also may help someone with jet lag or shift work. Light therapy is used to expose your eyes to intense amounts of light. This occurs for a specific and regular length of time.

This light is meant to affect your body clock in the same way that sunlight does. Talk to your doctor to see if either melatonin or light therapy might help you sleep better.

Inadequate sleep hygiene
This insomnia might also be called “bad sleep habits.” It involves the things that you normally do every day. These habits keep your sleep from being refreshing. They can also keep you from feeling alert during the day.

These activities are all things that you should be able to control. They include such things as drinking alcohol or caffeine at night, taking long naps during the day, or keeping an irregular sleep schedule.

A sleep specialist can use behavioral therapy or sleep hygiene training to help you overcome these bad habits.

III. How Can Men Sleep Better?

Most men will sleep much better if they simply develop the habits of good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene consists of basic tips that help you develop a pattern of healthy sleep. See the Resources section of this site to find out how anyone can start down the path to better sleep.

Some men think that drinking alcohol will help them sleep better. Alcohol makes you sleepy and might help you fall asleep faster. But it is also likely to cause you to wake up during the night. Many people wake up too early after drinking alcohol in the evening.

This may be a "rebound" from the use of alcohol. It stays in your system for a long time after you have a drink. To improve your sleep, you should not have any alcohol within six hours of your bedtime. You should also limit how much and how often you drink. The heavy use of alcohol can be harmful to your overall health.

Men sometimes see sleeping pills as the answer to their sleep problems. These drugs can be useful in helping some people sleep better. But pills should not be seen as a long-term solution for better sleep. Doctors rarely prescribe them for more than a few weeks at a time.

You can also find many sleep aids on the shelves of your local drugstore. Most of these use antihistamine, the same ingredient found in many cold medicines. While they can have a positive effect on your sleep, they can also make you very groggy during the day. They should be used with caution.

You should not depend upon drugs to help you sleep on a regular basis. Talk to your doctor about other options that will help improve your sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping for more than a month, talk to your doctor about it. Don’t think that it will just go away over time. He may encourage you to visit a sleep specialist to find the source of your sleeping difficulty.

Before going to see a specialist, complete a daily sleep diary for two weeks. The sleep diary will help the doctor see your sleeping patterns. This information gives the doctor clues about what is hindering your sleep and how to help you.

Your sleep is too important for you to ignore the signs of trouble. You have too much to gain by seeking help from a doctor. Don’t put it off. Your sleep will affect the quality of every other area of your life.

Reviewed by Norman J. Wilder, MD
Updated on May 11, 2006

Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Sleep Medicine