During menopause, hormonal changes lead to a broad range of effects. Many women suffer sleeping problems, but may not realize that menopause increases their risk of sleep apnea, which not only wakes them at night, but leads to serious, potentially fatal consequences.

How Menopause Contributes to Sleep Apnea

A photo of a middle aged woman experiencing hot flashesMenopause contributes significantly to sleep apnea risk. More than twice as many women suffer sleep apnea after menopause than before, but we’re not entirely certain why. Weight gain during menopause is a major risk factor for sleep apnea. Weight gain leads to more weight on your throat and tongue, making them more likely to sag into your airway, leading to snoring or sleep apnea. But some studies suggest that sleep apnea risk increases independently of weight gain.

It’s likely falling estrogen levels have an impact. Estrogen plays a keystone role in your hormonal structure, and when it decreases, several other hormones are affected. Serotonin, for example, which is known for its impact on your mood, but also helps maintain tone in your throat and soft palate. If your throat and soft palate collapse, it cuts off your air supply, leading to apnea.

Leptin also decreases as estrogen falls. Leptin not only helps you control your weight, it also helps hold your airway open at night.

Diagnosing and Treating Sleep Apnea during and after Menopause

Although we now know that sleep apnea can be harder on a woman’s heart than a man’s, sleep apnea is commonly thought of as a man’s disease and often goes undiagnosed in women. If you are experiencing perimenopause, it’s time to talk to  your doctor about the risks.

It’s also important to know that sleep apnea and menopause symptoms are sometimes confused. If you find yourself waking up at night, you may blame it on hot flashes, but that may be only part of the cause. Hot flashes typically last for less than a year, so if it’s been longer than that and you’re still waking up at night or feeling tired during the day, it’s important to consider that sleep apnea may be the problem.

The good news about sleep apnea is that it’s very treatable. For some women, hormone therapy can reduce the severity of sleep apnea. For others, it might be best to try treating sleep apnea directly. There are many sleep apnea treatment options, including CPAP and oral appliance therapy.

If you are concerned that sleep apnea may be responsible for some of the symptoms you are experiencing, we can help. Please call (303) 691-0267 for an appointment with a Denver sleep dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.