Tag Archives: Sleep

Sleep and Sex: It’s Not What You Think

Today, I’m reprinting a very interesting article from the National Sleep Foundation. 

How Sleep Is Different for Men and Women

A cup of coffee isn’t the only thing that can cause your energy levels to jump around. The other reason why you feel wide-awake at some points of the day and drowsy at others? Your circadian rhythm, an internal clock that helps regulate the cycle of when you feel sleepy and when you feel alert.

In a broad sense, circadian rhythms are similar from person to person, operating on roughly 24-hour cycles. But it turns out there are some notable differences in the sleep/wake patterns of women and men, which could explain why men tend to be night owls while women are more apt to be early risers.

The Rhythm Method

Circadian rhythms are controlled by an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. Other influences include light (which sends a message to your brain that it’s time to wake up) and darkness (an indicator to your body that it’s time to release melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep). Regular sleep patterns—waking up and going to bed at the same time daily—also keep your circadian rhythm functioning normally, helping to reduce the chance of sleep trouble such as insomnia.

What’s Sex Got to Do with It?

Beyond these factors, there’s another important variable that influences your internal clock: sex.

It turns out, male and female circadian rhythms don’t exactly match up. Men’s clocks tend to run truer to a full 24-hour cycle or longer (on average, men have a circadian cycle that’s six minutes longer than for women ) meaning they may feel less tired in the evening.

In women, the internal clock is more likely to be shorter than a full 24-hour cycle, making it more likely that they will awaken earlier, which may also increase their susceptibility to early-waking sleep disturbances like insomnia.

Handling Sleep Cycle Interruptions

While eight hours per night on average is ideal for both genders, it turns out that men are harder hit by periods of deprivation. Lack of sleep causes work performance to suffer more for men than for women, and men recover less quickly from lack of sleep than women do.

On the other hand, women’s shorter cycles mean they are more likely to have a dip in energy at night, which could help explain why there’s an increased risk of work-related injuries in female shift workers.

Of course, it is possible to learn how to re-train your inner clock to help you feel more awake or sleepy at different parts of the day depending on your lifestyle needs. But left to its own devices, the body’s natural rhythms make it more likely that if you are a man, you will be a night owl, and for women, an early bird.

The Pandemic Ten

Remember the “freshman 15”, aka the pounds everyone seemed to gain their first year at college? It’s déjà vu all over again.

Back in the day, the culprits were pizza, beer (and/or weed), and nerve-wracking new experiences like late-night cramming and unprecedented freedom.

This is different, and not just because I’m older. Month after month of the same old, same old has led to inertia and tedium with a constant low hum of anxiety buzzing along underneath.

I don’t really care what the government is recommending… Dear Husband and I are staying put except for essential and unavoidable tasks. Since we can’t travel or eat out with friends, we’ve amused ourselves by cooking food from different cultures and pretending to be elsewhere. Unlike traveling, however, we are not burning calories by walking extra miles through cities, museums, and the like. Even my Fitbit is bored.  The result: packing on extra poundage like a wild animal in captivity.

Like many of you, I eat when I’m stressed even if I’m not physically hungry. And what I’ve realized, as my own little world keeps shrinking — while I’m not — is how many of my essential needs aren’t being met… which leads to stress… which leads to snacking.

  • Order and control. Toss this one right out the window. We have no idea when this will end and can’t do much about it except to continue social distancing and wearing a mask. Plus, staying informed is highly overrated when so much of the news is just plain sickening.
  • Anticipation. It’s hard to plan for a trip or special event when there’s nothing on the calendar.  And being worried about catching the virus en route does dim one’s enthusiasm.
  • Personal space.  If you’re someone who needs lots of alone time, a pandemic is not your friend.
  • Sleep. Stress and worry make sleep elusive, or fitful at best. Which in turn affects your body’s balance of the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. When the body is sleep-deprived, ghrelin levels spike, while the level of leptin falls, leading to an increase in hunger, especially for junk food. (I don’t know how it knows, but it does.)
  • Variety of experiences. When going to the grocery store is the weekly highlight, life’s a little blah no matter how nice your home or neighborhood is.

Anyway, it’s useful to know the triggers. Now I need to get serious about my action plan, as I refuse to buy a larger-size wardrobe. Who’s with me?

photo of a burn fat text on round blue plate

Photo by Natasha Spencer on Pexels.com

 

 

 

A Sleep Trick

I just read about a brilliant way to lull yourself to sleep — or back to sleep if, like me, you tend to wake up in the middle of the night.

  1. Think of a letter — either at random or start at the beginning of the alphabet.
  2. Visualize a word beginning with that letter, e.g. “apple” for A.  Don’t choose anything you’re phobic about, such as clowns, heights or spiders.
  3. Keep thinking of new words beginning with the same letter (“avocado”, “armadillo”…) and take time to picture each one.
  4. When you run out of images, move on to a new letter.
  5. Keep going until you nod off.

I tried this in the middle of the night and bored myself back to sleep in record time!

Have a great, sleep-filled weekend, and Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are mothers, about-to-be mothers, or have ever had a mother.

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