You are in the postmenopausal phase of your life after actual menopause has taken place (when you have not menstruated for a period of 12 months). The most commonly reported sleep disorders in menopausal women are: sleep apnea, insomnia, snoring, narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome.
More than half of women can expect to struggle with sleep problems during their menopausal transition. Hot flushes and night sweats are related to the decline and loss of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone that occurs during menopause and can make sleeping very difficult for some women. Lack of sleep can also contribute to coronary artery disease, irregular heartbeats, stroke, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and depression.
A major issue with sleep apnea is weight gain particularly around the mid section and the inability to lose weight – it can turn into a vicious circle – if you are fatigued you have no energy for exercise which leads to further fatigue, further weight gain and worsening sleep apnea.
Being overweight can predispose a person to sleep apnea. Some studies have shown that large, thick necks can also aggravate the problem.
Signs and symptoms of sleep problems in menopausal women should not be, in the first instance, attributed to menopause if underlying sleep disorders have not been ruled out.
What is Sleep Apnea Disorder?
Sleep Apnea is disrupted sleep by an irregular breathing pattern. Essentially sleep apnea is a structural problem; in some cases the tissues of the lower throat and necks are pulled by gravity whilst you are lying flat. As the tissues are pulled down the airway becomes smaller.
Apnea literally means “no breath”. Episodes of sleep apnea are brief moments when a sleeper stops breathing, leading to there being insufficient oxygen which then forces the sleeper to awaken. This can very often happen several times an hour, leaving the sleeper with constant daytime grogginess.
The brain reacts to the lack of oxygen and you wake up long enough to restore normal breathing. The “in and out” sleep pattern puts pressure on the nervous system and organs such as the brain and heart do not fully repair and rejuvenate. Arms and legs can also be affected if they are not getting the oxygen they need.
In some cases women are often incorrectly diagnosed by one of the following conditions rather than sleep apnea disorder:
• Cardiac or pulmonary illness
• Menopausal changes
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea Disorder
• Loud snoring
• Witnessed breathing pause at night
• Excessive sleepiness during the day
Other Symptoms of Sleep Apnea Disorder
• Morning headaches
• Mood disturbances
• Other symptoms that suggest menopause such as forgetfulness and loss of libido
• Waking up with a sore or dry throat
• Sometimes waking up with a choking or grasping sensation
• Recurrent wakings or insomnia
• Sleepiness whilst driving
Women with suspected sleep apnea should undergo an overnight diagnostic sleep study which will detect the number of apneic episodes. If it is found that you have sleep apnea the condition will be treated most usually with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. The CPAP device blows air at a prescribed pressure which is determined following your sleep study.
Although the CPAP is believed to be the most effective treatment for sleep apnea, there are other treatments such as positional therapy i.e. sleeping in a reclining chair or propped up on pillows, oral dental appliance and in some cases surgery.
American Review of Respiratory Diseases, 1992, Vol. 145, “Are postmenopausal women at increased risk of sleep disordered breathing?”
Connolly, TA (2007) Sleep-Related breathing disorder and heart diseases-central sleep apnea. Sleep Medicine Clin, 2(1); 107-117
Snoring and Sleep Apnoea in Women. Retrieved 2 June 2014. Retrieved from http://www.britishsnoring.co.uk/snoring_&_sleep_apnoea/women.php
The menopausal transition as a risk factor for sleep apnea in women. Retrieved on 16 September 2015. Retrieved from http://www.menopause.org.au/health-professionals/gp-hp-resources/165-the-menopausal-transition-as-a-risk-factor-for-sleep-apnea-in-women