Chronic sleep deprivation leads to a range of icky health issues. Among them: diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. A disheartening study now says women may be more susceptible to these illnesses in the wake of, well, staying awake, than men.
Researchers from Duke University surveyed 210 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 about the quality and frequency of their sleep, and assessed them on several other measures of health, including psychological distress and physical well-being.
None of the subjects had a history of clinical sleep problems (meaning they weren't insomniacs) and all were relatively healthy (i.e., didn't smoke and didn't have any major health concerns during the time the study was conducted).
The researchers found that issues falling and staying asleep alongside not getting enough Z's on a regular basis were linked with hints of blood sugar regulation problems, higher rates of inflammation, elevated stress levels, increased hostility, and a heightened risk of depression. But only for women. And the more trouble women reported with sleeping, the higher their body mass indexes were, while men seemed to be buffered from this effect.
The researchers suggest these gender disparities may have to do with the sex hormone testosterone, which is produced in much higher quantities in men than women. Testosterone has been found to protect the body's cells from inflammation and, as a result, may also protect the brain and other organs from sleep deprivation and stress.
"Higher testosterone is associated with lower CRP and IL-6 [hormonal markers of inflammation in the blood stream], greater insulin sensitivity and lower BMI," the researchers write in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. "It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that higher testosterone levels blunt the health damaging consequences of poor sleep in men."
As for the weight gain/poor sleep link? The study authors believe that the different balance of hormones we ladies have (namely: more estrogen and progesterone, less testosterone) can, when thrown out of whack even further by crappy sleep, incline us to take more trips to the fridge than our boyfriends. IOW: Sleep deprivation may just make women hungrier than men, thanks to our hormonal differences. Great.
Rather than recommending all women seek ways of boosting their testosterone levels, however, the researchers underscore the importance of women developing a more solid bedtime routine that allows them more wiggle room to fall — and stay — asleep. Easier said then done, but consider this your 453,735th reminder that sleep is the answer to most of your life problems.
To help buy yourself more wind-down time at night, share this news with the guy in your life who just doesn't get how, after a long day/night, you need an hour and freakin' half to relax, shower, brush your teeth, prep for the next day, etc. — whereas they can come home, drop their bag, maybe pee once, and then just pass out. Grrrrr...
Originally posted by Katherine Schreiber for Cosmopolitan