The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Men vs. Women

Sleep deprivation is associated with greater psychological distress and higher levels of biomarkers linked to an elevated risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

sleep deprivation

Researchers found that women over age 45 who reported having sleep problems “often” or “always” had nearly double the risk of developing fibromyalgia, compared with those between ages 20 and 44 who reported problems.

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Studies examining the association of sleep behaviors with neuromuscular performance and daytime function in older women found that sleep deprivation is associated with worse physical function during the day. Women who slept less than six hours per night walked 3.5 percent slower than those who slept six to eight hours. Women who napped for 1.8 hours during the day were more likely to have a functional limitation than those who napped for 30 minutes or less.

Sleep deprivation—measured by the total amount of sleep, the degree of waking during the night, and how long it takes to get to sleep—is associated with greater psychological distress and higher levels of biomarkers linked to an elevated risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These associations are significantly stronger in women than in men. What’s more, poor sleep habits are linked to an increased risk of fibromyalgia. Researchers found that women over age 45 who reported having sleep problems “often” or “always” had nearly double the risk of developing fibromyalgia, compared with those between ages 20 and 44 who reported problems.

Men are not immune to disrupted sleep and its adverse effects. In their 60s, men have more frequent periods of light sleep and awakenings than women, and the amount of time they spend in REM sleep also declines. Lack of sleep also can mean that men have lower levels of testosterone, a hormone that affects libido, energy levels, and immune function. Other research suggests that men with abnormal sleep patterns have an increased risk of mortality. Although the reasons for the increased risk were not clear, the researchers say that men, like women, should try to maintain normal sleep patterns whenever possible.

Ethnic Differences in Sleep Deprivation

Interestingly, ethnicity plays a role in sleep habits and disorders. A 2015 study documented these differences in middle-aged and older Americans. Overall, 34 percent of the 2,230 participants had moderate or severe sleep-disordered breathing, and 31 percent slept less than six hours per night. Blacks were most likely to sleep too little and were more likely than whites to have sleep apnea, poor sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness. Hispanics and Chinese people were more likely than whites to have sleep-disordered breathing and short sleep duration, but Chinese people were least likely to report having insomnia.

A poll by the National Sleep Foundation documented many similarities and some significant differences with respect to sleep among Asians, Hispanics, blacks, and whites. The findings include:

Sleep deprivation brings health problems: Respondents from each ethnic group agreed that poor sleep is associated with health problems (76 to 83 percent).

Activity before bedtime: Blacks were the most likely to report performing activities in the hour before going to bed every night or almost every night, specifically watching television (75 percent) and/or praying or doing another religious practice (71 percent).

Not sleeping while in bed: Whether on weekdays/workdays or non-workdays/weekends, blacks spend much more time in bed without sleeping than the other ethnic groups (54 minutes on weekdays/workdays and 71 minutes on non-workdays/weekends).

Working before bed: Among those participants who were employed, blacks (17 percent) and Asians (16 percent) were more likely than whites (9 percent) and Hispanics (13 percent) to report doing job-related work in the hour before bed.

Sleep medications: Asians are the most likely ethnic group (84 percent) to say that they had a good night’s sleep at least a few nights or more a week. In addition, Asians are the least likely to report using sleep medication at least a few nights a week (5 percent versus 13 percent for whites, 9 percent for blacks, and 8 percent for Hispanics).

Never sleeping well: Asians are the least likely (9 percent) to say they “rarely” or “never” have a good night’s sleep, compared with 20 percent of whites, 18 percent of blacks, and 14 percent of Hispanics.

Regional Differences in Sleep Deprivation

Residents of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and West Virginia suffer from the most sleep disturbances and daytime fatigue. This is consistent with other studies showing that many states reporting worse sleep and fatigue problems also have a higher prevalence of obesity. By contrast, residents of the West Coast report the fewest sleep problems. The researchers determined that regional differences in mental health, race/ethnicity, and access to medical care are the main factors that explained these differences.

For more on sleep deprivation and how to fight it, purchase Improving Sleep from www.UniversityHealthNews.com.

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