Do you have sleep apnea? A lot of 50+ age women do, but don’t know it. It could be why you feel so tired most mornings or crave a mid-day nap. It can also make other health conditions worse, if not treated.
It’s one of those conditions that have to be diagnosed by remote monitoring – either spending a night at a sleep lab or using a portable monitor at home. Your heart rate, oxygen intake, and how many times your body wakes itself up are measured and analyzed.
As many as half of all women may have this condition. Yet, on average, only one woman is diagnosed for every two or three men. Why is that?
In the past, most of the studies on sleep apnea were done on men. That ratio is improving but women have different signs and symptoms than men, so some doctors may not think of sleep apnea as a first diagnosis. Menopause frequently gets blamed for a lot of women’s health issues, including symptoms of sleep apnea – chronic fatigue, insomnia, morning headaches, and mood disturbances. Sound familiar?
So what’s the big deal?
Well, for one thing, it makes conditions like high blood pressure worse. It also increases your risk for Type2 diabetes, and increases the severity if you already have it, Women with both diabetes and sleep apnea are also frequently overweight — which leads to all types of other health problems.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the risk for sleep apnea increases as women transition to menopause. Post-menopausal women are three times as likely to have sleep apnea as pre-menopausal women. Younger women who are pregnant or any woman that is obese are also at greater risk of having the condition. And even if you are not obese, sleep apnea creates more weight problems in women than in men.
How can you tell if you might have it? If you wake up choking or gasping for air, have a dry throat in the morning, are gaining weight for no apparent reason, or see your blood pressure rising, then talk to your doctor about obstructive sleep apnea. Women with endocrine or metabolic disorders are also more likely to have mild to moderate apnea.
The more we learn about sleep apnea, the more experts realize how much harm it can do to a person’s health. It’s been tied to stroke, heart attack, and early death. It makes existing health conditions like diabetes or hypertension worse. Women with sleep apnea also seem to develop more memory problems or dementia.
A recent study of Swedish women found that more than half of those between 45 and 54 had sleep apnea, and a whopping 75 percent of 50 to 75 had this condition. Those are pretty scary numbers.
There’s no “cure” for sleep apnea – yet. The best treatment, for now, is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. You put on an oxygen mask at night and the machine forces a steady supply of O2 into your nose, which helps keep the airway open and keeps you breathing normally.
CPAP works for most people — although doctors say getting patients to use it every night is a challenge. It’s not exactly the most romantic thing to take to bed with you. Not to mention that your partner (if you have one) may not appreciate the noise coming from the CPAP machine.
So it’s a trade-off between being hooked up to a small machine every night, or being exhausted, cranky, and headachy every morning. And you thought menopause was no fun?