Sleep apnea is typically thought of as a sleep disorder that affects men, not women. According to the National Sleep Foundation, obstructive sleep apnea affects both genders, but the ratio of men vs. women diagnosed with OSA is about 8:1.
A greater awareness of the dangers of sleep apnea, including increased risk of heart disease and even death, have prompted more men to talk to their physician about sleep apnea if they demonstrate any symptoms.
But sleep apnea presents itself differently for women, which may lead them to go undiagnosed, according to the University of Chicago Medicine. A woman may have sleep apnea even if she doesn’t snore loud enough to rattle the windows.
“Women generally have less snoring and occasions where a sleep partner notices they stop breathing,“ said Dr. Teofilo Lee -Chiong, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver and Chief Medical Liaison, Philips Respironics. "However, women will have more insomnia, daytime sleepiness and fatigue, and have more trouble functioning during the day due to lack of restful sleep.”
Morning headaches and moodiness also are common symptoms experienced by female sleep apnea sufferers but not necessarily by men.
Carrying around extra weight can increase a woman’s risk of developing sleep apnea—extra weight may constrict the airways, making it harder to breathe during sleep. A woman’s risk of sleep apnea also increases during menopause, Lee-Chiong noted, as hormonal changes may alter her breathing and airways.
A woman who is tired or overwhelmed frequently, experiences headaches or has any other symptom of sleep apnea should speak with her doctor, even if she doesn’t snore, Lee-Chiong said. One simple conversation could lead to a lifetime of better sleep.