Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that stops and starts your breathing and often presents itself as snoring. This condition is sometimes misdiagnosed—and often dangerous—for both men and women.
Signs of Sleep Apnea in Men vs. Women
Snoring is one of the most common signs of sleep apnea. However, for women, the issue of snoring as a symptom of sleep apnea isn't cut and dry.
Chad Denman, DMD, a sleep specialist at Sleep Cycle Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care that, for women, "breathing problems at night are more subtle. Women also tend to have shorter and less frequent apnea events. These factors make it more difficult to diagnose sleep apnea in women; however, not impossible.”
A 2019 article published by the Journal of Sleep Medicine also offers valuable insights about this topic. The article notes that snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, often considered primary markers of sleep apnea, are both targeted by common screening tools and reported less frequently by women.
“Early research into sleep apnea was, unfortunately, targeted more towards men. This means that the list of common symptoms of sleep apnea was tailored towards men,” Denman says.
In fact, some studies show that a significant number of women do not report any of the classic signs of obstructive sleep apnea. Further complicating the issue is that the typical symptoms of sleep apnea, such as snoring, are deemed more socially unacceptable for women, which could affect the number of women self-reporting them.
Women are, however, more likely to report non-specific symptoms of sleep disordered breathing, such as:
- Sleep onset insomnia
- Sleep disruption
According to Mayo Clinic, women also increase their risk of developing sleep apnea if they’re overweight and after they’ve experienced menopause.
Of course, not everyone can know if they snore. But there are some symptoms of sleep apnea in adults that might let you know if your breathing is irregular while you sleep. It can be helpful for patients of all genders to look for these symptoms if sleep apnea is suspected.
“Waking up in the morning with a headache or congestion can be a side effect of snoring. If this happens frequently, it can be a sign that you are suffering from frequent and serious snoring,” Denman says.
Another sleep apnea symptom to look out for when you wake up is daytime drowsiness after 7-8 hours of sleep.
According to Denman, snoring typically keeps you from sleeping well at night. So if you find yourself nodding off at a stoplight, it may be due to the sleep disturbances you experience from having sleep apnea.
Over time, weight gain may also indicate that you have sleep apnea. “Poor sleep often leads to increased weight gain. Unfortunately, weight gain tends to make snoring worse; because there is more soft tissue around the throat to collapse. If you notice an increase in weight gain, along with other symptoms, it could be a sign of snoring, which could be a sign of sleep apnea,” Denman says.
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