Women Who Have Trouble Falling Asleep at Risk
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center say they may have figured out why poor sleep is more harmful to women than men.
Their study, appearing online in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, found that poor sleep is associated with greater psychological distress and puts them at higher risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These associations were found to be significantly stronger in women than in men.
“This is the first empirical evidence that supports what we have observed about the role of gender and its effects upon sleep and health,” says Edward Suarez, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke and the lead author of the study.
“The study suggests that poor sleep — measured by the total amount of sleep, the degree of awakening during the night, and most importantly, how long it takes to get to sleep — may have more serious health consequences for women than for men.”
The study was performed on 210 apparently healthy, middle-aged men and women without any history of sleep disorders. None smoked or took any medications on a daily basis and investigators excluded any women who were on hormone therapy, which has been shown in some studies to alter sleep patterns in some women.
Using a number of assessment measures, including blood samples that were looked at for various markers of cardiovascular health the researchers found that about 40 percent of men and women were classified as poor sleepers, defined as having frequent problems falling asleep, taking 30 or more minutes to fall asleep or awakening frequently during the night. But while their sleep quality ratings were similar, men and women had dramatically different risk profiles.
“We found that for women, poor sleep is strongly associated with high levels of psychological distress, and greater feelings of hostility, depression and anger. In contrast, these feelings were not associated with the same degree of sleep disruption in men,” says Suarez.
Women who reported higher degree of sleep disruption also had higher levels of all the blood markers that suggest an increased risk of cardiovascular disease,obesity and type II diabetes.
“Interestingly, it appears that it’s not so much the overall poor sleep quality that was associated with greater risk, but rather the length of time it takes a person to fall asleep that takes the highest toll,” says Suarez. “Women who reported taking a half an hour or more to fall asleep showed the worst risk profile.” That length of time is 30 minutes or more. If this happens every once in a while, it’s not a huge deal. If this occurs 2-3 days a week or more; it may lead to cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome or diabetes.
Suarez says he’s planning further studies to understand the complex relationship between health risk and poor sleep in men and women. He believes that the gender differences may be due, in part, to variation in the activity of a number of naturally occurring substances in the body, such as tryptophan, an amino acid; serotonin, a neurotransmitter; and melatonin, a neurohormone. “All of these substances are known to affect mood, sleep, onset of sleep, inflammation and insulin resistance,” he says.
“Good sleep is related to good health. More research needs to be done to define gender-linked responses to poor sleep, including the role that sex hormones play over a lifetime and how sleep needs and responses change from childhood to maturity,” says Suarez.
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Duke University Medical Center (2008, March 11). Poor Sleep More Dangerous For Women.