While it’s more prevalent for men to have sleep apnea, this condition is incredibly common in women as well. About 26% of the population between the ages of 30 to 70 has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and it’s 8 times as likely to be diagnosed in men, even though sleep apnea is more dangerous for women.
Women are under-diagnosed even though their sleep apnea symptoms, especially when left untreated have a much more severe impact.
Sleep Apnea Is More Dangerous For Women
Sleep disorders in men and women are actually very different due to physical anatomy. For example, women actually need more sleep than men because they have less testosterone, which is necessary to manage the stress caused by lack of sleep. Then as women age and their estrogen levels drop they have a harder time falling asleep.
Without their much-needed rest, sleep apnea symptoms tend to be much worse in women leading to life-threatening issues. According to one study that examined medical brain scans of sleep apnea patients, women show more signs of a thinning cerebral cortex.
This leads to decreased cognitive skills, decreased motor functions. Also, it may explain why it’s more common for women to have memory issues and increased difficulty with mental process than men with sleep apnea.
Women with sleep apnea also experience a higher risk of:
- Cardiac distress
- Heart Disease
Why Are Women Less Likely To Be Diagnosed With Sleep Apnea?
Because of the physical and hormonal difference between men and women, they often experience different symptoms. While men experience the traditional sleep apnea side effects, women do not. To put it simply, sleep apnea looks different in women, making it more difficult to diagnose.
“Although sleep apnea is more common in men, women with sleep apnea are misdiagnosed or less likely to be diagnosed because doctors don’t think of women as having sleep apnea. This is a problem because sleep apnea may be worse in women. While in men, most common symptoms for sleep apnea are snoring and waking up gasping for air, with women the symptoms are less overt but more serious like fatigue, depression, and headaches,” explained Dr. Haissam Dahan, DMD, MSc, PhD, lecturer at Harvard and McGill University.
Men With Sleep Apnea Experience:
- Gasping for air
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
Sleep Apnea Symptoms In Women:
- Mood swings
- Changes with decision making
Women are lighter sleepers. They tend to wake up when their partners have disturbances in the night and can alert them to choking or excessive snoring. Men are heavier sleepers and often don’t notice when their partners wake or experience sleep disturbances during the night.
These difference often causes sleep apnea to be difficult to detect and as a result, women tend to be misdiagnosed. Instead of being treated for sleep apnea or recommended for an at-home sleep study, they are prescribed antidepressant medication and misdiagnosed with high blood pressure or insomnia.
How Women Are Properly Diagnosed
Women aren’t out of luck when it comes to sleep apnea. Doctors are becoming more aware of the prevalence of sleep apnea in women alone with the differences. Plus, with proper education women are better able to recognize the symptoms themselves.
Common Sleep Apnea Symptoms For Women To Include:
- Light snoring
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Waking multiple times in the night, either to use the bathroom or randomly
- High Blood pressure that’s difficult to control, even with medication
- Waking with a headache
Sleep Apnea Risk Factors In Women:
- Being between 55-70 years of age
- Having a neck circumference greater than 16”
- Having anxiety and depression
If you seem to match up with a few of these symptoms and may be at risk for sleep apnea speak with your doctor. The first step towards taking your health back and feeling like yourself again involves getting an at-home sleep study. Then you can catch sleep apnea from the comfort of your own bed.
The most effective sleep apnea treatment method for both men and women involves the use of a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device. Best of all, it may be covered by insurance!