The United States is a sleep-deprived nation. Though adults are supposed to get an average of eight to eight and a half hours of sleep every night, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that almost one third of all Americans don’t even get seven hours of sleep a night.
“One of the myths is that we can power through or sleep when we’re dead,” said director of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and chair of the National Sleep Foundation, Dr. Charles Czeisler. “But of course we’ll get there faster if we don’t get enough sleep.”
The trouble is that resolving our sleep problems isn’t always that easy. Though there are many solutions available, some don’t work as well for certain people. Women and men often run into different challenges when trying to get their 40 winks.
According to a poll from the National Sleep Foundation, 63% of women experience insomnia at least a few nights a week, while only 54% of men will have similar problems. Women are also more likely to experience daytime sleepiness, and toss and turn more frequently.
This divide comes as the result of differences in hormonal regulation. Estrogen shortens the length of a person’s sleep cycle, which is why many women often have trouble sleeping around the same time as menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause.
“One of the things is the internal clock controls the timing of sleep,” Czeisler said. “It runs faster in women than it does men. It’s only about a tenth of an hour but it adds up so that women, in general, their internal clocks are set to about an hour or an hour and half earlier than men, and that means it wakes them up earlier in the morning and it’s harder to stay awake in the evening.”
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea which, according to WebMD, “occurs when your breathing is disrupted during sleep. Men, overweight people, and people over 40 are at greater risk for sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can cause hypertension, stroke, or heart failure.”
Since men have more fat deposits around the neck, they’re more likely to suffer from sleep apnea. In fact, about 17% of men are diagnosed with it, compared to only 9% of women.
Regardless of the physical differences that cause sleep problems, there are still many different ways people can help themselves to get good rest. First, it’s important to go to bed at the same time every night so that the body’s circadian rhythms remain regular. Second, watching caffeine intake can help. It’s best to stop having drinks like coffee and soda around one or two in the afternoon. Thirdly, to avoid electronics and take some time to wind down before bed, to give the body physiological clues that it’s time to sleep.