Sleep apnea is a serious condition for both men and women, but many studies show that men are diagnosed more often than women. Knowing how sleep apnea affects both genders gives you the best chance of early diagnosis and help avoid its harmful effects.
Because of hormones and anatomy, men and women have differences in overall sleep patterns. Women generally benefit from deep sleep. A woman’s circadian cycle also tends to be slightly shorter than a man’s, meaning they tend to fall asleep and wake up earlier. These genetic differences affect how sleep apnea presents itself.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
Being overweight increases a person’s chance of developing sleep apnea. Extra weight constricts the airways, making it harder to breathe during sleep. For women, hormonal changes during menopause can increase a person’s risk of sleep apnea. However, it is important to note that sleep apnea can present itself at any age for both genders.
General signs and symptoms can be broken into two categories: nighttime symptoms and daytime symptoms. Nighttime symptoms include loud snoring, pauses in breathing, choking or gasping for air during sleep, and restless sleep. Daytime symptoms include headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, depression and irritability. Even if you don’t present the nighttime symptoms, sleep apnea may still be a possible diagnosis by your daytime symptoms.
Women are less likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea because symptoms present themselves differently. In women, sleep apnea greatly affects mood and decision-making. Even without sleep apnea, women are generally more likely than men to experience insomnia, depression and daytime fatigue. In fact, a woman might suffer from sleep apnea even if she doesn’t snore loudly.
Because women’s symptoms are sometimes more subtle than men’s, their sleep apnea is often mistaken for another disease that can cause those symptoms. Common misdiagnoses include depression, hypertension, hypochondria or other disorders.
If Sleep Apnea Goes Untreated
Sleep apnea can pose serious long-term health risks if untreated. Irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and an increased chance of stroke can stem from sleep apnea. When body mass index (BMI) is taken into consideration, obese men with sleep apnea are twice as likely to be at risk of hypertension than obese women.
If you have symptoms consistent with sleep apnea, you should consult a sleep physician. Taking action could lead to a lifetime of better sleep, as well as fewer health risks.