A lot of men suffer from a sleep disorder, or two, and don't even realize it. A combination of factors including lifestyle, work, mental health and more have made sleep difficulties a lot more common in men.
There are over 80 known sleep disorders, so we can’t cover all of them. Instead, we’ll discuss the most common ones including their causes, symptoms and treatment options.
Note: If you’ve been having difficulty sleeping for some time, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
Most Common Sleep Disorders in Men
Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders in both men and women. It’s so common that many people don’t even realize they have a disorder. They just assume they have a little trouble sleeping.
You have insomnia if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. This may include taking a long time to sleep, losing sleep in the middle of the night and waking up too early.
There are two main types of insomnia. Acute insomnia is temporary and lasts less than three months. It is usually caused by a life event like the passing of a loved one or losing a job. Chronic insomnia lasts for more than three months.
2. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea occurs when you have irregular breathing during sleep. Men with sleep apnea will repeatedly stop and start breathing at night.
Sleep apnea is a serious and potentially deadly sleep disorder, so it’s important you seek medical advice and treatment if you notice any symptoms.
There are two kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive apnea where throat muscles relax and block your airway and central apnea where the brain fails to properly control the breathing muscles.
Common symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, waking up tired even after sleeping for the recommended 8 hours, daytime sleepiness and irregular breathing while asleep (noticed by someone else).
In men with narcolepsy, the brain is unable to control your sleep and wake cycles. It causes sudden daytime sleepiness that’s hard to control. These are sometimes called sleep attacks.
Daytime sleepiness can sometimes be accompanied by sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis should only happen at night during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep to keep you from acting out your dreams.
But when the brain cannot control when you sleep, it can also happen during the day.
Other symptoms of narcolepsy include muscle weakness, irregular sleep cycles (narcoleptics spend too much time in REM sleep), vivid dreaming, and hallucinations often when you are about to sleep or wake up.
4. Shift Work Sleep Disorder
If you work non-traditional hours such as night shift, you are at a higher risk of suffering from shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).
SWSD results from a mismatch between your internal circadian clock and your daily schedule. Your body knows darkness means sleep and light means wake up. If you work at night, you force your body to adapt to an unnatural rhythm.
This causes problems like insomnia, hypersomnia (unwanted sleepiness), fatigue, lack of focus and irritability.
5. Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome or RLS is one of the few genetic disorders that’s mostly caused by genetics. Most people with RLS also have a family member with the condition.
RLS manifests as an irresistible urge to move your legs. Because this occurs mostly at night, it is highly disruptive to sleep. It can make it difficult to sleep or wake you up in the middle of the night. This leads to sleep deprivation, which affects your daytime mental and physical state.
6. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
Like SWSD, delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. It occurs when you sleep two hours or more later than is normal. People with DSPS struggle to fall asleep at a regular bedtime because their internal clock is not working properly.
If you don't have another disorder like sleep apnea, you can actually still get good quality sleep if you have DSPS. You’ll just wake up later than normal.
The problem with DSPS is that it interferes with normal activities like school and work. So you are forced to wake up early and you suffer the symptoms of sleep deprivation.
What Happens If You Don't Sleep Well?
Sleep orders generally have the same effect: reduced sleep quantity and quality. This has a ripple effect on every other aspect of your life.
Sleep orders often cause daytime fatigue and sleepiness as the body tries to compensate for lost sleep. You’ll also experience impaired mental performance including lack of concentration, poor performance on tasks, reduced ability to solve problems and difficulty paying attention.
Sleep deprivation can go as far as impairing your health. Poor sleep has been linked to problems like inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure and others.
If you are an athlete or have an active lifestyle, sleep disorders can have a huge negative effect on your performance. It can even hamper muscle growth.
What Causes Sleep Disorders?
Most sleep disorders are linked to lifestyle factors like work schedule, a poor diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, lack of a sleep routine and so on.
For instance, a sedentary lifestyle has been associated with a higher risk of insomnia. Weight gain from a poor diet also increases your risk of sleep apnea.
Some sleep disorders like narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome can be genetically inherited.
Another major cause of sleep disorder is high stress or anxiety levels. This can lead to insomnia, delayed sleep phase disorder, and other sleep disorders. That’s why psychological disorders like anxiety and depression are typically accompanied by poor sleep.
Finally, your sleep environment can cause or worsen a sleep disorder. Factors like light, noise, temperature, pollution, electronic distractions and bed comfort can make it harder to sleep or stay asleep.
How Are Sleep Disorders Treated?
Most sleep disorders can be treated or managed through lifestyle changes. Things like improving your diet, working out more, and reducing your alcohol intake can help you sleep a lot better.
Establishing a regular bedtime routine can also improve your circadian rhythm. A routine tells your body when it’s time to sleep.
In some cases, a sleep disorder is serious enough to warrant medical intervention. If your difficulty sleeping is causing problems in your work, social life, school or relationship, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
You may need to undergo a sleep study especially for disorders like narcolepsy and sleep apnea. This will help diagnose your disorder.
The doctor may recommend lifestyle changes (e.g. a more active lifestyle or a different work schedule) and/or medication.
Don’t forget the importance of a good sleep environment. Something as small as getting a more comfortable mattress and covering the windows with blackout curtains can massively improve how well you sleep.
Combine a sleep-friendly bedroom (quiet, dark, cool and comfortable) with a healthy sleep routine and you’ll be well on your way to great sleep.