We know the common image of people who snore: older men, usually overweight. And it’s true that this is the demographic that’s at the highest risk for snoring and sleep apnea.
But the truth is that there is a form of sleep-disordered breathing that tends to affect a different demographic entirely. It’s sometimes called upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), and it’s been described flippantly as “the young, thin, beautiful woman’s sleep disorder,” as in this personal account in Elle Magazine.
What Is UARS?
UARS is a form of sleep-disordered breathing where a restricted airway lets in air, but not enough to meet the body’s needs during sleeping. The resulting oxygen shortage can lead the body to awaken enough to increase the airflow.
So far, it’s very much like sleep apnea , which is why many argue that UARS is just a form of sleep apnea. But what makes it different is that often the symptoms are often disproportionate with the degree of sleep disturbance. People with UARS may not show as much disturbance in a sleep test, but they definitely show symptoms comparable to people with sleep apnea who have a high apnea/hypopnea index (AHI).
This has led some people to propose that the problem isn’t so much the disruption of breathing as it is the brain’s response to the disruptions.
Realizing Your Risk
UARS can be very hard to diagnose for many reasons. Partly, that’s because the demographic is so different than it is for other forms of sleep disordered breathing. This makes it hard for people and their doctors to identify the cause of their symptoms. Like the young woman in the Elle piece, women consider essentially any other condition before they imagine it’s a sleep breathing problem.
Common symptoms related to UARS are similar to those for sleep apnea and may include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Waking up unrested
- Morning headaches
- Mood swings or psychological difficulties
The symptoms may be less pronounced than for sleep apnea, but they can also be very disruptive.
Women with UARS are commonly misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue, pain disorders, or psychological disorders such as depression.
Fortunately, like other forms of sleep disordered breathing, UARS can be effectively treated. The same treatments are used for UARS as for sleep apnea or snoring. Commonly, people are prescribed CPAP , but this can be hard to adapt to (the woman in the article took two months to get adapted). But oral appliances can work very effectively to widen the airway and allow more air into the body.