Posted on May 07, 2018
May is Better Sleep Month
Better sleep can lead to a better life. When you’re well rested it’s so much easier to meet goals, choose healthier foods, and feel energized to exercise.
Last week the Better Sleep Council (BSC) released its findings from a new survey on America’s bedtime performance as it relates to sleep regime. It indicated men outperformed their female counterparts, but both have room to improve.
The survey asked participants about bedtime habits and graded the responses based on best practices when it comes to sleep behaviors, such as turning off electronics before bed, keeping a regular bedtime, etc. On average, Americans earned a grade of a “C-” (70%), but, looking at the sexes side-by-side, men nudged out women for bed rest with an average score of 72%.
When looking deeper into the habits that make a good night’s sleep, men stood out in the bedroom because they were more satisfied with the quantity and quality of their sleep, were more rested after waking, and were pleased with the number of hours they slept per night.
A third of U.S. adults report they usually get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. A lack of quality sleep can lead to motor vehicle crashes and mistakes at work. Don’t view sleep as a luxury—it’s necessary for good health. But why does it appear that men are better (at sleep) in bed?
Women Start Life with the Advantage, But Then…
It’s a simple fact: Women are not like men when it comes to sleep. Dr. Michael J. Breus, also known as The Sleep Doctor, point out there are major physiological sleep-related distinctions in women and men:
- Starting at birth, females have more slow-wave sleep than males. Slow-wave sleep, which occurs during stage 3 and 4 sleep, is the deepest, most refreshing, “wake-up-and-feel-great” sleep.
- Women tend to wake up during the night less frequently than men.
- Women continue to have significant deep sleep well into their 30s while men see a decline in deep sleep in their 20s.
- A woman’s sleep system appears to age more slowly than a man’s.
But these differences should mean that women sleep better than men! What are we missing? Dr. Breus says it’s simple: Hormones and aging.
Women have more trouble sleeping during pre-menstrual and menstrual times of the month—difficulty getting to sleep, waking throughout the night, sleep disturbances, and dramatic dreams. These disturbances are all due to hormones: Estrogen increases rapid eye movement (REM) sleep while the female hormone progesterone (up after ovulation), causes feelings of fatigue or drowsiness. Lower production melatonin, a natural sleep hormone, during the second half of the menstrual cycle, can make it harder to stay asleep at night.
And, as any woman reading this article knows, pregnancy and childrearing take a heavy toll on sleep. Dozens of studies have shown that women lose hundreds of hours of sleep caring for a child during the first year of his or her life.
Unfortunately, women continue to see sleep issues linked to female hormones long after the childbearing years, says Dr. Breus. As women get older and see a decline of estrogen, they still need the same amount of sleep as when they were younger. But, in fact, sleep can be so light many feel they’re not sleeping at all. Both the quantity and quality of sleep can change significantly as you age. Usually, the deep sleep decreases in intensity with age, while light sleep increases.
Dr. Breus also warns the number of times a woman wakes during the night can increase with age which leads to a decreased total sleep time. Changes in body temperature are common with peri-menopause or menopause and are big contributors to sleep issues.
Make Plans for a Better Night
Now that we know women should, genetically, sleep better than men, what can be done to improve sleep?
Stick to a bedtime routine: The key to maintaining good sleep is to adhere to a schedule, says sleep researcher Helen Driver. “Try to make sure that your regular schedule is 11:00 p.m. to 7 a.m., for example, and stick to that schedule on the weekdays—and on the weekends as well,” she suggests. Be sure to give yourself time to wind down before you turn in for the night. “You can’t be working on your laptop then switch off the light and expect to go to sleep right away,” says Driver. Try reading or journaling for a half hour before bed.
Restrict your time in bed: A midday nap might seem like a good idea, but Driver says it will do nothing to help establish good sleeping habits. “If you’re awake during a solid period during the day with no naps, your sleepiness drive is quite strong. If you have a nap or an extended period of sleep in the morning it’s harder to get to sleep at night, as your sleep drive has had less time to build up.” If you find you’re not falling asleep right away, get out of bed and do a quiet activity until you feel ready to turn in.
Exercise outside: Setting the body’s circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock that tells us when to sleep and wake up, is an important part of establishing good sleeping habits. “Sunlight is the strongest time cue that we have so get out for an early-morning walk when possible,” explains Driver. Try incorporating an outdoor activity, such as a brisk walk to work, into your daily routine and stick to it, even in the winter.
Ask your partner for help: Since women traditionally wake to care for children during the night, their sleep is more disturbed than their male partners. This disrupted sleep can be especially problematic for those with a history of depression. “This is where a partner might need to get more involved in getting up at night to allow [his female partner] to have sufficient time to sleep and then to cope better during the day,” Driver advises.
Talk to your doctor: If your sleeplessness begins to affect how you function during the day, it’s time to seek help. Depression or anxiety—or some other health issue—could be keeping you from getting the rest you need. Write down what you’re experiencing and try to note any patterns you see in your sleep cycle. This way, you can help your doctor more fully understand what challenges you face.
For more information on sleep issues or to schedule an appointment to discuss any concerns you may have, contact Dr. David B. Maybee and his staff at the CCHC Sleep Lab at (252) 634-2240.
(Sources: Better Sleep Council; International Sleep Products Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Sleep Foundation; Dr. Michael J. Breus; Early to Rise Publishing LLC; SleepBetter.org; and Huffington Post.)