Healthy Living

Hot Flashes and Sleep Apnea: What's the Connection?

Hot Flashes and Sleep Apnea: What's the Connection?

As various researchers continue their efforts of treating the various conditions of the world, there is often a series of characteristics that are often associated with a certain disease.  Other times however, researchers have been able to make connections between certain symptoms that are not nearly as trivial.  One specific case that pertains to this idea includes a recent finding that concluded that hot flashes have been linked to causing obstructive sleep apnea in women. It has been known that women going through menopause and experiencing hot flashes have often reported sleep disturbances, however, researchers have found it hard to differentiate between those sleep problems related to menopause between the symptoms often associated with obstructive sleep apnea, as well as other sleep-related disorders.

Obstructive sleep apnea has been said to show a higher prominence with men than women, however, as women gain weight and get older, women have reported as having a higher chance of developing the sleep condition. 53 percent of a researched population of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women who reported issues with sleeping had a sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.  Identifying obstructive sleep apnea proves to be more difficult relative to men though, as men will normally show more prominent symptoms of the sleep condition, such as loud snoring.

If researchers are able to more clearly identify potentially revealing characteristics, they may very well shed light on a problem not yet understood.  This will prove to be an important finding for researchers and medical professionals alike, due to the fact that obstructive sleep apnea is commonly tied to more serious health conditions.  These conditions will often vary, but have been known to include a significant increase in the likelihood of obtaining heart disease, hypertension, stroke, depression, and even death.  The symptoms in women with a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea have been known to include insomnia, headaches, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

The study responsible for this research, entitled, “Association of vasomotor symptoms and sleep apnea risk in midlife women” included a total of 1,691 women who had completed the Mayo Clinic questionnaire. Of the total research population, 24.9 percent had been categorized in the intermediate and high-risk classifications for obstructive sleep apnea.  The women placed into this category were more often older and more overweight, as well as had a greater reporting of hypertension and other key characteristics. One of the most significant findings of the study showed that the women reporting having experienced hot flashes were 1.87 times more likely to also experience obstructive sleep apnea relative to women with either mild or no reports of hot flashes.

Sleep disruption in women encountering menopause is no new finding, which makes the identification of potential sleep disorders all the more important.  When asked about the phenomenon, Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton executive director of North American Menopause Society stated, “Sleep disruption is a common complaint at menopause. It is important to recognize the high number of undiagnosed sleep disorders, including OSA… Early morning headaches or excessive daytime sleepiness should raise concern for OSA and signal a possible need for sleep apnea testing.”

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can be classified by two different types: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.  The most common of these two classifications is obstructive sleep apnea, and is said to be more frequent in men than in women (as is the case for both the types of sleep apnea).  The sleep disorder occurs when a patient is not able to breathe normally while sleeping.  More specifically, the individual's breathing is disrupted, resulting in irregular breath patterns.  This occurrence means that the brain is not able to get the proper amount of oxygen it needs, posing potential risks for anyone who experiences sleep apnea, no matter the type.

In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, the cause stems from a blockage of the patient’s airways.  This can be the result of collapsed soft tissue being present in the back of the throat. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, does not have to do with blocked airways, but rather the brain’s inability to signal the muscles to breath. This ultimately stems from an instability within what is known as the respiratory control center. The symptoms associated with this type of sleep apnea can include difficulty stay asleep, chest pain at night, inability to concentrate, shortness of breath while lying down, as well as waking up abruptly.

In terms of the risk factors for sleep apnea, the potential causes can vary based on a number key factors regarding certain lifestyles or stages of life.  These risk factors for developing sleep apnea can include being male, overweight, at an age over 40, having a larger neck size (more specifically 17 or larger for men and 16 inches or larger for women), large tonsils, a large tongue, a small jaw bone, a family history of sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux, as well as nasal obstructions as a result of a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems.  The adverse effects of sleep apnea, if left untreated, can very well include high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, diabetes, depression, worsening of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), and painful headaches.

Although sleep apnea is rather common, especially in the Unites States, where over 18 million Americans are said to have sleep apnea, the condition can very well go unnoticed.  Some patients can easily blow the condition off as simply allergies or not getting enough sleep due to other factors. The way in which sleep apnea is diagnosed is based on a sleep apnea test known as a polysomnogram. 

This test can be conducted either at home or at a designated sleep disorder center. The test itself is made up of various segments, where signals are electronically transmitted to record specific physical movements while the patient sleeps. The readings are observed and analyzed by a qualified sleep specialist in order to determine whether or not a patient should be diagnosed as having sleep apnea.  If it has been confirmed that the patient does indeed have sleep apnea, the sleep disorder center will normally schedule further tests.  During the actual testing that is conducted, there are a multitude of test equipment that is utilized.  These will often include what are known as electroencephalograms, electromyograms, electrooculogram, electrocardiograms, nasal airflow sensors, and a snore microphone.

The future for women with hot flashes and sleep apnea

As research surrounding this very phenomenon continues, medical professionals will begin to understand the reasoning as to why this link between hot flashes in women and sleep apnea exist.  With extensive study, medical professionals may gain key insights into this link, which can ultimately result in better forms of treatment.  In addition to treatments, doctors and researchers could very likely gain ground towards preventing this very occurrence all together.  Doing so can ultimately ease the difficult experience that can be felt with menopause.

In the meantime, it will be now more important than ever for women experiencing such symptoms to consult the necessary professionals.  This is said due to the fact that some of the common experiences associated with hot flashes and menopause can be overlooked as only having to do with the point in a woman's life.  This makes it necessary for women to inquire about potential sleep conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, to better enable healthcare professionals to treat the condition accordingly.