As women enter menopause, a decrease in the production of certain hormones causes many physical and emotional changes. Along with hot flashes and mood fluctuations, breathing issues, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), can be more severe. Learn about the connection between menopause, sleep and OSA—and what you can do about it.
What is OSA?
OSA is a condition in which breathing is temporarily paused and interrupted during sleep. It can present itself as snoring or gasping for breath and is generally triggered by the throat muscles relaxing too much during the night. This causes the airway to close, leading to a gasping sensation. More than 18 million adults have sleep apnea, and while it is more common in men, the odds of experiencing OSA increase in women during and after menopause. There’s also an increased risk if you have family members with sleep apnea, if you’re overweight, or if you smoke or drink.
Why does menopause make it worse?
During menopause, levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone decrease in women’s bodies. These hormones act as stimulants and play a role in keeping airways open by maintaining muscle tone in the throat. As they decrease, the chances of obstructed breathing rise. What’s more, hormonal changes can lead to weight gain and a redistribution of body fat, sending more fat to the throat area, which can cause disrupted breathing.
How can it be treated?
Speak with your doctor about your symptoms. In some cases, a low dose of hormone therapy might be prescribed. For mild cases of OSA, your physician may suggest lifestyle changes, like losing weight or cutting back on pre-bedtime alcoholic beverages. For moderate or severe cases of sleep apnea, using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine when you sleep could be the answer. This device moves air pressure through a mask that you wear over your nose and helps keep your upper airways open which helps you stay asleep.