Gentlemen, listen up: Believe it or not, sleep is just as important for you as it is for women and children. It restores your body and mind, revs up your immune system, improves your heart health, helps control hunger cues and weight, boosts your mood and energy and keeps your mind focused. That’s a lot of good stuff for virtually every aspect of a man’s health.
Despite all those selling points, too many men don’t take sleep seriously. “Some men have a certain bravado about sleep,” says Param Dedhia, M.D., director of sleep medicine at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “They think they’ll push through exhaustion. So they push until there is no physiological reserve. That’s when men come to us—at the exhaustion point.”
If you’re not getting great sleep, there’s no (good) reason to wait until you hit bottom—and perhaps hurt your health. Understanding exactly how good-quality rest (and enough of it) can help you—including in ways you may not know about—might just be the motivation you need to prioritize shut-eye:
Sleep enhances sexual performance. “Many men don’t make this correlation, but poor sleep means less growth hormone and lower testosterone levels,” Dr. Dedhia says. When you’re exhausted, your ability to attain and maintain an erection may falter temporarily. When it comes to your risk for chronic conditions, the breathing condition sleep apnea—which can significantly hurt the quality of your sleep—also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, which in turn can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
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Sleep improves romantic intimacy. Even if the mechanics of sexual performance are fine, sleep deprivation can interfere with a satisfying love life. How? “Sleep affects mood,” Dr. Dedhia says simply. “When you’re fatigued, intimacy will not happen very easily. To be connected intimately, a lot of other things need to line up. When I bring this up, it often catches men off-guard, but once they know there’s an intimacy connection, they’re suddenly more open to talking about sleep.”
Sleep equals a healthier heart. Getting good rest is one of Eight Steps to a Healthy Heart. Beyond risks linked to apnea, when your shut-eye is disrupted your blood pressure may climb, affecting the functioning of the inner lining of your arteries. Sleep deprivation also tends to raise blood sugar, which over time can damage the cardiovascular system and increase your risk for diabetes. Ideally, blood sugar drops during sleep, but “when the body is stressed, it needs more energy, so blood sugar levels go up,” Dr. Dedhia explains.
Sleep helps you achieve your fitness, healthy-eating and weight goals. All the best-laid plans for exercise, diet and weight rest on a foundation of good sleep. Awakening refreshed makes it easier to control the urge to overeat sugary, salty and fatty foods and gives you the energy to follow through on fitness plans. On the flip side, being sleep-deprived alters hormones involved in glucose control, fat storage and feelings of hunger and satiety, which can translate into putting on weight. “Sleep is the connection,” Dr. Dedhia says. “It’s the link to how we eat and how we move.”
Sleep is good for your career. Understanding how a pattern of healthy rest can support your long-term success at work is often a powerful motivator for men. “Rising executives get rewarded on productivity,” Dr. Dedhia says. Losing sleep to get that big report in, or to finish up a presentation, gets you praise and accolades; if you complain about the hours, “suddenly you’re a whiner,” he adds. But chronic sleep deprivation makes you less sharp, less focused and less creative. “It’s not transparent overnight,” he says, but eventually it will affect your productivity and, in turn, your success.
Your Get-Better-Sleep Plan
The best approach to achieving better-quality sleep is the same, regardless of your gender: Exercise regularly but not within three hours of bedtime; watch your caffeine intake; turn off gadgets and screens at least a half-hour before hitting the sack and if you drink alcohol imbibe earlier in the evening (with dinner, for example).
That last piece of advice is especially important for men. “Worldwide, there’s a culture of a man coming home from work and pouring himself a stiff drink,” Dr. Dedhia says. “Maybe you come home, have a drink at dinner and then a nightcap.” Even if your overall drinking is moderate, that nightcap may backfire and disturb your sleep. Alcohol will help you fall asleep, but as your body metabolizes it, you may wake up, or your sleep may be lighter and more fragmented. Dr. Dedhia’s advice: “Wait two hours after a drink before trying to go to sleep.” Instead of using alcohol to de-stress before bed, find other ways to relax, like coming up with a bedtime routine that helps you unwind or doing some calming stretches.
“Your daytime life will impact your nighttime and sleep, and your nighttime and sleep will impact your daytime,” Dr. Dedhia adds. “Invest in sleep and it will pay dividends.”