Women, Snoring and the Menopause

It’s not just middle-aged overweight men who wreck their other half’s sleep.

Women are equally affected.

I read with interest an article in The Daily Mail recently where a woman discovered her snoring could result in serious health issues if untreated. Whilst napping on a train last summer she was suddenly woken by the sound of a loud snore.

She opened her eyes to see her family looking shocked, before bursting into loud giggles as she came to and in time to see a smartly dressed businesswoman gather up her laptop and move down the carriage.

In that moment she realised she was the one who had been snoring. To make matters worse, they were in the Quiet Zone. Everyone would have heard. She had always hoped that she was naturally feminine and alluring even while sleeping.

However over the past ten years her partner had repeatedly said she snored – sometimes when napping, and sometimes in the night when her snores had often woken him.  She always thought he was joking and denied it.

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Tired businesswoman asleep at her desk

She had always attributed snoring to smoking, or being overweight and indulging in too much alcohol or fatty foods – none of which applied. Then she recalled that she had been suffering a lot from daytime fatigue over the recent years. She had wondered occasionally if I something was seriously wrong. But then, in more sensible moments, thought she was just tired because of having a busy lifestyle.

The drowsiness had happened in a wide variety of situations; at the computer screen, in the cinema, and in front of the TV. She had even nodded off while on the phone.  It also happened during conversations with her family. She once found her daughter stabbing her awake with a pencil during a discussion about impending A-level choices.

Then she discovered, whilst in hospital for an unrelated matter, that her snoring could result in some very serious health issues if untreated.

Snoring and unexplained daytime sleepiness – either on their own or combined – may amount to nothing. But the two of them, together with increasing weight, and being aged over 50 indicates that the problem is likely to be OSA – Obstructive Sleep Apnoea – essentially, interrupted breathing during sleep.

When we sleep, our airways naturally relax and narrow. With sleep apnoea, the muscles and soft tissues around the airways relax and collapse so much they cause a blockage to the airway – the snoring is caused by the air being forced through a narrower space.  But if the airway becomes completely blocked you can actually stop breathing for ten seconds or more until you gasp or choke. It’s then that the brain starts the breathing process again.

The long-term effects of obstructive sleep apnoea, if not treated, is frightening. It’s linked to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. It can also lead to weight gain, which can only make OSA worse.’

Being excessively tired as a result of having your sleep repeatedly disrupted as you stop breathing during the night carries risks, too. ‘There is some research that shows that drivers who have OSA are six times more likely to have road accidents than those who don’t,’ says Professor Williams.

Yet the condition does not always get picked up as quickly as it should. Medical professionals believe 80 per cent of people with the condition are undiagnosed, many of them women, who are very reluctant, like the example described earlier, to admit that they snore.

John Redfern