Sleep is a big topic these days. Turn on the TV or radio and you’ll probably hear someone discussing sleep medicine. There have been broadcast several conversations about sleep recently on topics ranging from surgical options to sleep-inducing drinks. And books are being written everyday on sleep topics, as well as ongoing articles in national magazines – particularly on the subject of snoring
For many years this has been regarded as strictly a male preserve but the emphasis has started to shift recently. In fact half of all the women given overnight sleep tests for a new study were found to have mild-to-severe sleep apnoea – a staggering percentage.
Obstructive sleep apnoea is a serious snoring disorder in which the sufferer stops breathing during sleep for at least 10 seconds. It’s generally associated with men, but researchers in Sweden recently set out to determine the frequency of the problem in women. The results were surprising. Half of the women in the study experienced obstructive sleep apnoea, with 20 percent having moderate and 6 percent having severe symptoms.
The report has been published in the European Respiratory Journal and was based on women between the ages of 20 and 70 from a large population sample of 10,000.
The participants of the study were monitored during sleep for heart rate, eye and leg movements, blood oxygen levels, airflow and brain waves. Half experienced at least five episodes an hour when they stopped breathing for longer than 10 seconds. And for women with hypertension or who were obese, the numbers reached as high as 80 to 84 percent.
The results were very clear cut and seem to have started many alarm bells ringing – it was important enough to have been picked up and covered by the UK National Press including the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.
Age played a big part and the disorder was found to be more prevalent in older women: Among women aged 20-44, one quarter had sleep apnea, compared to 56 percent of women aged 45-54 and 75 percent of women aged 55-70.
Occasional cessation in breathing during sleep may happen to everyone from time to time, but in obstructive sleep apnea there are at least five times when breathing stops, for at least 10 seconds each time, within an hour. Patients with really severe symptoms may stop breathing hundreds of times in one sleeping session.
Sleep apnoea is a serious health problem and is tied to a higher risk of depression, stroke, heart attack, cancer and early death. Importantly it can be minimized or even eliminated by simple anti-snoring devices such as Mouthpieces worn at night.
Many patients are not aware of their sleep disorder, and knowing these symptoms can often help:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnoea
- Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep that is witnessed by another person
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnoea
- Awakening with a very dry mouth or a sore throat
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Attention problems during the day
In some occupations, particularly when driving or being in charge of any machinery, sleep apnoea is extremely dangerous due to the possible lack of attention or even from falling asleep briefly.
Another recent study also found that women who have sleep apnoea are more likely to develop memory problems and dementia.
One piece of important advice – Do not Ignore it.
If you suspect problems take advice from your GP who may even ask you to attend a specialist NHS Sleep Centre for further tests and confirmation of the symptoms.
Act now – because it will not go away – it will simply get worse.
By John Redfern
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