Menopause is a time of dramatic changes for your body. As your body begins to produce less estrogen and other sex hormones, it can affect your sleep, leading to sleep apnea. Even normal-weight women are at elevated risk for sleep apnea after menopause.
How Menopause Contributes to Sleep Apnea
We’re not entirely certain of the exact connection between menopause and increased sleep apnea risk, though it’s likely there are multiple factors involved. Estrogen plays a key role in your body’s hormone structure. It helps to regulate many other hormones, including serotonin, which not only affects your mood, it contributes to maintaining tone in your throat and soft palate, two tissues that commonly collapse to cause sleep apnea. Estrogen levels also affect leptin levels, and leptin helps keep the airway open.
Weight gain is another factor that can lead to sleep apnea after menopause. Weight gain is commonly associated with menopause and it can contribute to snoring and sleep apnea, but some studies suggest that, even controlling for increased weight, menopause may increase a woman’s risk of sleep apnea.
Diagnosing and Treating Sleep Apnea during and after Menopause
Women who are experiencing perimenopause should talk to their doctors about sleep apnea and other effects. If your doctor doesn’t mention sleep apnea, you may have to bring it up. Sleep problems in menopause are common, and they’re not always recognized as sleep apnea because they can easily be confused with other symptoms.
For example, hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause. Hot flashes affect up to 85% of women going through menopause and can cause you to awaken many times during the night. But when you awaken, you may not know the cause, and during the next day when you feel tired and drowsy, you may attribute it to hot flashes when you may actually be suffering from sleep apnea as well. It’s also important to remember that hot flashes are temporary, lasting for less than a year in 75% of women, but if you’re still waking at night and having tiredness during the day more than a year after menopause, it’s likely sleep apnea you are suffering.
Hormone replacement therapy can help reduce the severity of sleep apnea, sometimes reducing it by as much as 75%, but for most women it’s best to treat sleep apnea directly, with CPAP or oral appliance therapy.
If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea secondary to menopause, please call 402-493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.