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The Connection between Menopause, Sleep, and Sleep Apnea

Many women experience difficulties sleeping as they go through menopause, with good reason. This prominent life shift involves physical, psychological, and hormonal changes. Studies now hint that menopause and sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, may have some sort of connection. Researchers now think that women who experience extreme menopause symptoms may be at a higher risk for developing sleep apnea.

During perimenopause, ovaries very gradually begin to create less progesterone and estrogen. Some women need to have their ovaries surgically removed for one reason or another. This causes menopause to begin more abruptly. Menopause begins approximately a year after the cessation of menstrual cycles. For most women, this occurs around 50 years of age. During this life transition, many women report difficulties sleeping. Additional symptoms include depression, mood disorders, hot flashes, and anxiety. Symptoms aren’t consistent across the board. Many women experience different symptoms as they experience this change.

Overall, women in the post-menopausal stage of life survey to be less satisfied with sleep. Over 60 percent of these women have reported symptoms of insomnia. It’s also not unusual for snoring to become more prominent as well. Worsening sleep is a direct result of hormonal changes caused by menopause. Both progesterone and estrogen help promote and regulate sleep. When the body experiences decreased levels of these hormones, sleep is affected. Other symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes also contribute to a lower quality of sleep.

Menopause and Sleep Apnea

Snoring is much more common in women who’ve entered the post-menopausal stage of their life. Snoring is also one a notable symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. OSA occurs when the airway is partially or completely obstructed during sleep. This obstruction interferes with breathing, ultimately leading to poor sleep quality. Over an extended period of time, OSA can cause serious health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It also negatively affects memory, focus, and causes daytime drowsiness. This combination of symptoms can be very dangerous to anyone suffering from untreated OSA as well as the people around them.

Research has linked a decrease in estrogen production with an increased risk of OSA. A study conducted in Canada shows that around 20 percent of pre-menopausal women are diagnosed with OSA while nearly half of post-menopausal women suffer from the dangerous sleep disorder. Researchers believe this increase is a result of decreased estrogen levels.

Decreases in estrogen levels also cause hot flashes and night sweats. Women who experience a greater number and greater intensity of hot flashes and night sweats also seem to be more prone to developing OSA.

Treatment Options for Menopause and OSA

Treatment options are available for both menopause and OSA. Hormone therapy can be used to relieve menopause symptoms. Unfortunately they are also associated with a greater risk for both cardiovascular disease as well as dementia. The side effects vary depending on the method of hormone replacement therapy as well as the treadment duration. If you do wish to undergo menopausal treatment it’s recommended that you take the lowest possible effective dose for only short periods of time.

It’s also possible to treat menopausal symptoms in a more natural manner. Vitamin and herbal supplements, diet, and exercise can all help combat symptoms and provide a better quality of sleep. Small changes, such as wearing lightweight pajamas, may also help. Avoiding stimulants and depressants prior to bed can help reduce the symptoms of both menopause as well as OSA. The important thing is to find a balance of treatments that improve both conditions. If one condition improves while the other worsens, sleep will still be interrupted by the worsening condition.

If you think you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea it’s important that you speak with your healthcare provider right away. Treatment for OSA is easy and very effective. The best news is that the health problems that result from OSA are reversible. Patients who begin treatment for their sleep disorder report feeling more rested right away. Over time their memory and focus improves. It’s also common to see blood pressure decrease to normal ranges and many individuals lose weight more easily. Undergoing treatment also greatly reduces the long term health risks of OSA.

OSA Treatment Options

The most common and effective method of treating OSA is with the use of a CPAP machine. This machine provides continuous positive airway pressure. This constant flow of air during sleep prevents the airway from collapsing or becoming obstructed. The air pumps through a hose and into a mask placed over the mouth and nose. There are a variety of CPAP machines on the market depending on your needs and preferences. Unfortunately, CPAP therapy isn’t the best option for everyone.

Alternative OSA treatment options are gaining popularity as we learn more about the importance of treating the sleep disorder. One option in particular is quickly gaining ground. Dental appliances are quickly becoming the treatment option of choice for individuals with mild to severe sleep apnea. Rather than dealing with a noisy machine that may be uncomfortable to use, patients are opting for a gentler approach. Dentists specially trained in sleep medicine possess the ability to design and create an oral appliance for OSA. This appliance accomplishes the same goal as a CPAP machine, but in a different way.

Your dentist will evaluate where the problem lies and design a device to help. This could mean holding the tongue or jaw in a certain position, supporting the soft tissues that frequently collapse with OSA, or some combination of the two. The design of theappliance is based upon each patient’s individual needs.

The first step on the path to treatment is to speak with your doctor. Talk about your symptoms and don’t gloss over anything. Something you deem as unimportant may actually be a big clue when it comes to reaching a diagnosis.

Call Mark Levy DDS at (614) 777-7350 if you have any questions about alternative methods for the treatment of sleep apnea.