Getting men to talk about their sleep problems can open the door to mental health conversations.

Men struggle to talk about their experiences of stress and mental health – it’s well known to be a massive challenge. Men don’t talk about something that personal. They are reluctant to open up. They are fearful of being judged. They bottle up their feelings.

Men often don’t even notice that problems are brewing until they experience a health crisis

Research shows that many men are so good at suppressing their emotions they don’t even notice that all is not well within them, and that problems have been brewing for a while. Until suddenly it all erupts.

And then they can find themselves deep in the midst of a serious health crisis – either physical or mental. Despite often the many physical and emotional warning signs that most men will experience – but ignore, or not notice – in the build up to the crisis.

Sleep is different

Sleep however is different. From the moment a baby is born the topic of conversation is about sleep. How does your baby sleep? Is he/she a good sleeper? All the way through childhood we are surrounded by the conversations about sleep. Relatives ask about it. Health professionals are paid to ask about it and to give help for it. Even strangers ask about it. Everyone recognises its importance.

We share this common goal for not just our offspring to sleep well but all offspring to sleep well. When babies and young children sleep well we all know that that parents will be able to sleep too. If you have a sleepless child, everyone suffers.

We all need sleep

Outside of parenthood sleep is a shared experience of humanity. We all need it. It’s biologically essential for our survival. We all know what great sleep feels like. We also all know what it feels like to have periods of poor sleep.

At least half of all people have experienced insomnia

At least half of all people have experienced insomnia at some point. Most people in our busy world say that they want to wake up in the morning feeling more refreshed and having slept for longer – something that has been described as an epidemic of sleeplessness in Western societies.

People want to tackle their sleep more than any other wellbeing area

Professionally I find that people are keen to talk about sleep, its importance and how they feel tired from not sleeping well. That in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Programmes I run more people choose to tackle their sleep than any other area of wellbeing.

Men are happier to talk about their sleep than stress and mental health

Within my programmes men are much more comfortable in talking about their sleep than other areas of wellbeing such as stress and mental health.

Some wear lack of sleep like a badge of honour

Of course in some workplaces people wear the mantle of lack of sleep like some sort of badge of honour. People still struggle to recognise the link between sleep and performance but more people do recognise that sleep is an important part of overall wellbeing.

Understanding more about someone’s sleep can help with mental health

So what is the connection between sleep and wellbeing? And how can understanding more about someone’s sleep help us understand more about men and their mental health.

Sleep and mental health are closely connected

Research shows that sleep and mental health are closely connected. Enforced sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture over the years. Sleep deprivation can tip the mind into psychosis.

Sleep disturbance is often a sign of anxiety or depression

Sleep disturbance is often a sign of anxiety or depression – trouble getting to sleep or with early waking or struggling to get up are all recognised as signs of common mental health issues. However sleep problems are for some the first sign of emotional issues – such as relationships challenges or workplace stress. They may be even be the first response to a workplace reorganisation.

Sometimes poor sleep starts a cycle of poor mental health

But sometimes people just sleep badly and this then tips people into a cycle of stress, tiredness, relationship challenges, anxiety and depression. People will often describe how a period of poor sleep caused the mental health crisis they then experienced.

Ask men questions they will answer

Given that men struggle to open up honestly when asked about their mental health, we would be better to ask the questions they are more likely to answer. The links are so strong between sleep, stress and mental health that finding out how a man is sleeping is more likely to open the door to honest conversations about mental health and wellbeing.


Adelle is a Public Health Nurse and Lecturer and now works with leaders to tackle the cost and waste to people and businesses from stress and mental health.

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