Sleep apnea is one of several sleep disorders that rob many people of a good night’s sleep. It’s a relatively common disorder, but it’s harder to detect and diagnose in women. About 10 percent of women suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
In recognition of National Sleep Awareness Month each March, we strive to raise awareness of the importance of restorative sleep. While many people may believe they are getting enough sleep at night, it’s suspected that nearly 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
In a classic sleep apnea case, the sleep partner who is awakened due to their bedmate’s excessive snoring and gasping can quickly help identify a problem – referred to as a witnessed apnea. This interruption in sleep causes repeated pauses in breathing, which leads to frequent awakening to reopen the airway. For many, the sleep disturbances, coupled with excessive and unexplained daytime sleepiness, are tell-tale signs of this sleep disorder. Answering questions on a sleep apnea screener, or a home test, provided by a physician can help quickly diagnose this issue.
But the test benchmarks may leave women suffering from the disorder in the dark. Women often do not receive scores through the sleep apnea screeners that are high enough to receive diagnostic care even if they do have sleep apnea.
An at-home sleep test may not register a woman’s frequent wake cycles because the snoring is much lighter and waking events are much shorter and briefer compared to men. Additionally, women may report other bothersome symptoms accompanying their sleepiness, such as headaches, depression and mood disturbances. These inconsistencies among sleep apnea cases in men and women could result in a misdiagnosis.
Risks for sleep apnea in both genders may include higher weight and genetics, such as having a small mouth and chin but a larger tongue. These genetic factors mean that thin women may have a similar risk for developing sleep apnea just like an overweight male partner; however, she may be overlooked due to her smaller stature.
It’s important to diagnose and treat sleep apnea as the risks for lifelong health complications are serious. Moderate to severe cases can present an increased risk for strokes and heart attacks. In contrast, even mild cases can cause depression, trouble focusing and multitasking, and hand-eye coordination problems.
As we approach National Sleep Awareness Month, take the necessary steps to ensure a good night’s sleep and prevent further health problems. If you or your partner suspect sleep apnea keeps you from receiving the rest you need to live a healthy life, talk to your physician to schedule an evaluation.