How insomnia 'can send men to an early grave' - But are women immune to the dangers?

By David Derbyshire

Men who find themselves unable to sleep during the small hours of the night may end up dying younger, scientists warn.

According to their study, male insomniacs are far more likely to die prematurely than those who regularly get a good night's sleep.

Women, on the other hand, appear able to cope with sleep deprivation without lowering their life expectancy.

Their discovery adds to growing evidence that too little sleep can have long-term health implications.

Lead researcher Dr Alexandros Vgontzas said: 'The primary finding of our study is that insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, is associated with significant mortality in men.

'Until now, no study has demonstrated that insomnia is associated with mortality,' added the psychiatrist, from Penn State College of Medicine, in Pennsylvania.

The research, published in the medical journal Sleep, looked at the sleep patterns of 1,000 women and 741 men.

The volunteers, who joined the study in the 1990s, provided a detailed sleep history and had their sleep monitored during one night in a laboratory.

Eight per cent of women and 4 per cent of men were diagnosed by the scientists as having chronic insomnia and sleeping on average fewer than six hours a night. But over the following 14 years, men with chronic insomnia were four times more likely to die than those with more healthy sleep patterns.

The findings took into account diseases that could cause the men to sleep badly - such as diabetes and high blood pressure - and risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, depression, obesity and sleeping disorders.

However, women with insomnia were just as likely to die in the following decade as those without, the researchers found.

Men were at an even greater risk of premature death if they suffered from chronic insomnia and diabetes or high blood pressure.

'We believe that cumulatively these findings will increase the awareness among physicians and scientists that insomnia should be diagnosed early and treated appropriately,' said Dr Vgontzas.

Experts say most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night.

The researchers are unsure why insomnia is more dangerous for men.

But since the women in the study were followed up for just ten years - and the men for 14 years, the apparent difference between the sexes could be a result of a flaw in the research.

  • Tired teenagers are more likely to reach for fatty junk foods more often than those who are well-rested, research shows. And according to the findings, sleep-deprived girls are the most likely to give in to temptation. U.S. scientists tracked the eating and sleeping habits of 240 boys and girls aged 16 to 19. Getting fewer than eight hours' sleep a night increased the intake of fatty foods by around 2 per cent, the journal Sleep reports. Over time that could have a huge effect on health.


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