According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep disorders affect men and women differently. What’s at play? Physical differences, lifestyle influences, aging, and more. Recognizing these gender-related factors is important so we can better understand and treat sleep concerns.
It’s quite common to snore — whether your male or female. In fact, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation nearly half of all adults snore and 25% of adults snore “habitually.” “Problem” snoring, however, is more common in men — so much so that male snoring is more likely to cause a bed partner to go sleep in another room.
To help prevent snoring, WebMD recommends sleeping on your side as opposed to on your back, maintaining a healthy weight and losing weight if appropriate, avoiding alcohol, preventing over-tiredness by practicing good sleep hygiene, and addressing any allergens in your bedroom (including potential triggers in pillows and bedding.) If snoring continues to be an issue, reach out to your physician and ask about sleep apnea (see below).
Linked to snoring, sleep apnea (also called obstructive sleep apnea or OSA) affects 3% of the population, but is more common in men. In fact, according to WebMD, sleep apnea is up to four times more common in men than women.
When people have sleep apnea, their breathing stops and starts intermittently while they are sleeping due to a narrowing of the airway. Pauses in breathing typically last for 10 seconds or more. As a result, oxygen in the blood decreases and the heart has to compensate by working harder. Bedmates might notice their partners gasping or startling.
Often, the sufferer will not get good rest, feel sleepy during the day and experience drops in productivity. If left untreated, sleep apnea can increase risks of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and more.
Why are men more likely to experience sleep apnea? One reason may be physical makeup. Sleep apnea can be linked to pressure on the airway from soft tissues of the mouth and throat — more likely in larger men as well as in someone who is overweight. Some experts also indicate that men’s airways are narrower than women’s, making men more susceptible to obstruction. Lifestyle habits that can influence sleep apnea include smoking and excessive alcohol use, both of which are more common in men.
To help treat mild sleep apnea, the Mayo Clinic recommends exercise, weight loss, quitting smoking, and treatment for allergies (if you have them). Discuss more serious sleep breathing concerns with your doctor because there are other treatments available, including oral appliances, breathing devices and surgery. Effective treatment for sleep apnea is important to help prevent chronic tiredness and more serious complications.
Nighttime Urination & the Prostate
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in men located between the bladder and the penis. Nearly all men over the age of 50 will experience growth in the prostate called benign prostatic hypertrophy or BPH, often with related difficulty in urination increasing with age. BPH can cause more frequent urination at night, disrupting sleep.
Treatments for BPH are available and additional testing may be appropriate to rule out other, more serious health concerns. It also can be useful to avoid drinking fluids in the evening, especially caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, which can decrease bladder muscle tone while also increasing urine production. If you wake up to use the bathroom more often than you used to, talk to your doctor.
These are certainly not all the ways in which men and women can differ in their sleep, but they are a few of the most common. What’s the same no matter your gender? The importance of sleep for health and well-being and Circady’s dedication to helping us all get there.