Women's Health

Menopausal Hormones May Cause Sleep Apnea in Women

Menopausal Hormones May Cause Sleep Apnea in Women

Menopausal Hormones May Cause Sleep Apnea in Women

Obstructive Sleep Apnea or more commonly referred to as sleep apnea has recently been observed to have high incidences in perimenopausa women. Other than observation and self reporting of increased difficulties with sleeping, there is no definitive scientific data that link sleep apnea to menopause. However, a four year study concluded the lower levels of estrogen may have been responsible for cases of sleep apnea and that menopausal women were eight times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea.

The changes that happen during menopause can cause women to experience symptoms that are commonly associated with sleep apnea. According to the Sleep Foundation, "post-menopausal women are less satisfied with their sleep and as many as 61% report insomnia symptoms. Snoring has also been found to be more common and severe in post-menopausal women.  Snoring, along with pauses or gasps in breathing are signs of a more serious sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea." Hot flashes also interrupt sleep for many patients who are post-menopausal. They are not only responsible for patients waking up frequently throughout the night, they also cause them to feel fatigued throughout the day. Before, women with severe symptoms were treating it with either Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) or with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), but after a study done by the United States government, it was found that these drugs often place women at risk for cardiovascular disease and dementia. 

While HRT can be prescribed at low doses, there are several alternative methods that would also work like:

  • Calcium supplements
  • Vitamin D
  • Bisphosphonates
  • Osteoporosis treatment
  • Estrogen creams and rings to counter vaginal dryness
  • Sleeping medication
  • Soy products (which should be spoken about with a healthcare professional)

High incidences of obstructive sleep apnea have been observed in peri- menopausal women. However there is no scientific data that can link both other than observation and self reporting. A study four years back showed that some cases of sleep apnea happen due to low levels of estrogen and the likelihood of this is eight times more in case of menopausal women. The women may experience some sleep apnea symptoms due to changes that happen during menopause. In post menopausal women snoring has been found to be very common and severe. A signs of more serious sleep disorder is when the person snores with pauses or gaps in breathing. For many post menopausal women, sleep is also interrupted by hot flashes. Frequently throughout the night the patient keeps waking up.  Earlier with estrogen replacement therapy, hormone replacement therapy the women were getting the problem treated. However it was found that the risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease increases due to this drug. Even though at low doses this therapy can be recommended but there are several alternatives that can work. These include vitamin D, calcium supplements, biphosphonates, sleeping medications, estrogen creams, osteoporosis treatment and soy products.

Although for sleep apnea, weight is the most common risk factor, but researchers have recently noted that due to onset of menopause the loss of hormones could also be a cause. In menopause the women’s body stops producing eggs. The beginning part is called peri-menopause in which the regulation of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone is lowered. A range of uncomfortable symptoms are experienced between menopause and peri-menopause. Difficulty in sleeping may be caused due to these symptoms such as fibromyalgia, hot flashes, arthritis and depression. Menopause also alter the sleep pattern and the stages of sleep.

Depression is caused when the body is under stress along with sleep interruptions due to night sweats and hot flashes.  This can cause sleep issues. The risk of developing sleep apnea in peri-menopause and menopause is almost 30 percent. The chances of developing severe sleep disorder are 10 percent. Also it has been suggested that increase in weight may be caused due to hormonal changes. For sleep apnea this is the most common risk factor. Also other factors include lower levels of estrogen and progesterone leading to collapse in the muscles that keep the airways open for breathing.

Side effects of sleep apnea are:

  • Waking headache
  • Loss in sex drive
  • Depression

It becomes scarier when any form of sleep apnea is coupled with menopause. However both can be treated effectively. In order to determine whether indeed the patient is suffering from sleep apnea, the physician needs to conduct a sleep study. It may result in the use of CPAP machine. Hormone replacement therapy or supplements can be used to treat loss of hormones from menopause.

In United States sleep apnea affects twenty two million people. In this disorder there are sleep interruptions due to airway blockage. When the person sleeps at night the muscles of the throat and tongue relax. Sleep apnea is also caused by overly large tonsils that narrow the airway by pressing on it. Sleeping on the back, certain medications, having alcohol before bed and overweight can cause sleep apnea.