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Sharp Health News

Men, women and sleep

Feb. 2, 2016

Gender and sleep

Consuming too much caffeine, the blue light emitted from our smartphones, and even a lumpy mattress can keep us awake at night, wreaking havoc on our sleep schedule. But now, there’s another cause that we have no control over: gender.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, women are far more likely than men to have problems falling asleep and staying asleep, and are more likely to wake up feeling not well-rested. Particularly, single women with children under age 18 living in the same household.

“Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep to function optimally,” says Dr. Victoria Sharma, a Sharp Grossmont-affiliated doctor board-certified in sleep medicine and neurology. “However, there’s a wide range of normal sleep, anywhere from six to 10 hours. Women in general tend to suffer more than men from insomnia, thus single-parent women will also have a higher rate of insomnia than single-parent men.”

Although it may not be surprising that single moms get less shut-eye than men do, the report also notes that all women — across a range of household types — experience sleep problems.

“It has been suggested that some of this is due to hormonal changes that take place in a woman’s body through the years. The changes in hormones during menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause can affect a woman’s sleep in a negative manner,” she says. “Once insomnia starts, bad sleep habits are learned and these might result in more insomnia.”

In Dr. Sharma’s practice, she typically sees more women with insomnia, whereas men tend to see her for obstructive sleep apnea. The latter occurs when there are repeated episodes of complete or partial blockage of the upper airway during sleep. In certain instances, breathing may even stop; these states of not breathing can occur up to hundreds of times a night.

Regardless of gender, not getting enough quality sleep poses a range of serious health conditions. For women, the risks are high and can range from a thickening waistline to depression and heart disease.

“Sleep deprivation can result in decreased concentration, decreased cognitive functioning and increased risk of accidents. There’s some evidence suggesting that chronic sleep deprivation can result in increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. It can also have a negative impact on metabolism, contributing to obesity,” says Dr. Sharma.

When poor sleep starts to affect your quality of life or daytime functioning, it’s time to see your doctor. Dr. Sharma offers these tips to establish good sleep habits:

Optimize sleep habits, which means maintaining a routine sleep schedule.

  • Avoid caffeine for six hours prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid bright lights, and computer, tablet or smartphone use prior to bedtime as the blue light emitted from these devices can disrupt sleep.
  • Use your bed only for sleep.

To learn more about sleep disorders and the importance of an individualized treatment plan, visit the Sleep Disorders Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

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