While it may seem that snoring is more akin to men, that does not dismiss women from the dangers of sleep apnea. In fact, women may be at a higher risk than men due to the sheer societal views of sleep apnea.
Marina Abramskey, a Registered Respiratory Therapist at CanSleep Services, says women are less likely to report snoring due to embarrassment, and may even under-report it to their physician. “Women often associate it as a ‘men’s’ disease, and are unaware that other symptoms can be the cause of sleep apnea,” she said.
There are different types of sleep apnea with various symptoms. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common form; it is a breathing disorder that is caused by a blockage in the pharynx, at the back of the throat, obstructing airflow. It can cause patients to stop breathing repeatedly throughout their sleep.
Women experience different, subtler, symptoms of sleep apnea than men do. Abramskey said women are more likely to experience morning headaches, fatigue and tiredness, depression, and insomnia, rather than snoring or waking gasping, which are more common in men. “Because of the different symptoms experienced by women – mainly tiredness and insomnia – they are more likely to attribute it to taking care of the household and children, or even a stressful job rather than sleep apnea,” Abramskey added.
In both the medical and non-medical worlds, sleep apnea was traditionally seen as a men’s condition. However, as physicians become more educated on women’s symptoms, Abramskey said more women are being referred for sleep studies. So far, the studies have shown that women’s anatomies are different and therefore, women’s apnea and hypopneas are also different. “Women might experience shorter apneas and more in REM sleep,” Abramskey said.
As the medical field progresses with its studies on women and sleep apnea, Abramskey said it is especially important for women to report any sleep apnea symptoms to their physicians, or to consult the Registered Respiratory Therapists at CanSleep Services.