The battle of the sexes has made its way into the bedroom in recent years, prompting even Arianna Huffington to weigh in on the debate over who needs more sleep. Though women hold the title in her opinion, relying more on sleep to exercise good judgement, creativity and to realize their full potential, experts say quality sleep is just as critical for men as well.
"As far as men go, the health aspects of sleep are quite important," says Joe Ojile, M.D., a pulmonary and sleep specialist in St. Louis and chairman of the National Sleep Foundation's education committee.
"In people who deprive themselves of sleep, we see increased infections," Ojile says. "There's a reduction in the ability of the cells that kill germs -- they're called killer cells -- and they don't work as well," he says. It's just one of the many consequences of not getting enough sleep that researchers have been able to hone in on over the years.
According to National Sleep Foundation's 2010 "Sleep In America" survey, African Americans reported the least amount of sleep on average, during both the work week and on weekends, than their white and Asian counterparts.
"There are people who believe that to be sleep deprived and to take away hours of sleep to do something else is a good thing, or it shows that you're really tough or macho, and in reality it's fraught with consequences," Ojile says.
Here, he explains some additional risk factors of not getting enough sleep and the impact they have on men in particular.
"If you don't sleep correctly, your ability to get fit is more challenging," Ojile says, explaining how adequate sleep works to enhance men's ability to have more efficient workouts. Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical School have found that sleep deprivation can have a big impact on basic metabolism, with lack of sleep slowing glucose metabolism by as much as 30 to 40 percent. In the study, levels of the stress hormone cortisol were also higher during sleep deprivation periods, which has been linked to memory impairment, age-related insulin resistance, and impaired recovery in athletes. Ojile says he's seen ample anecdotal evidence in his practice with coaches reporting a reduction in stress and strain injuries among athletes they train.
One of the causes of chronic sleep loss -- sleep apnea -- is twice as likely to occur among men, the Mayo Clinic reports. The condition, which causes sudden drops in blood oxygen levels during the night, can strain the cardiovascular system and has been known to increase the risk of stroke, congestive heart failure and other vascular diseases. Experts caution not to ignore these tell-tale signs: Excessive daytime sleepiness Loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnea. Observed episodes of breathing cessation during sleep Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnea Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat Morning headache Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
Quantity of sleep is one thing, but quality is another. According to a report in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association last year, men who were light sleepers were 83 percent more likely to develop hypertension during the three-year period that the study was conducted. The findings showed that less restorative sleep can increase risk for high blood pressure among older men, but add to previous reports that show deep sleep may play a role in diabetes, cardiovascular disease and changes in metabolism across age groups.
A study published last summer in The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), confirmed what many of us already knew -- sleep deprivation can be a major libido buster. It isn't just that many Americans are too tired to have sex, but a lack of sleep may actually have a direct impact on the amount of testosterone produced in men. According to the findings, lack of sleep decreased testosterone levels by 10 to 15 percent, The Huffington Post reported. (On average, testosterone levels decline naturally by 1 to 2 percent a year as a man ages.)
While the link between sleep deprivation and obesity is well founded, a study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition proved just how much weight you can gain. In a study conducted among 30- to 49-year-olds, participants ate significantly more after they were sleep deprived -- 300 calories more, to be exact. Experts say poor sleep can wipe out self-control, and could be especially dangerous if you do it night after night.