Sleep apnea is a condition that affects many people, yet women often go undiagnosed and untreated. This can cause many negative effects in your life, including sexual dysfunction and other health issues. With proper treatment, you may be able to reduce many of the symptoms and complications of sleep apnea. Let’s talk about how sleep apnea affects women and what you can do to improve your overall well-being if you have this condition.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing while you sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is where your airways collapse and block breathing while you sleep. In response to this, your body wakes you up to help you breathe normally again. Because of this, people with sleep apnea often experience sleep fragmentation, low oxygen levels, and higher blood pressure, among many other health concerns. It can also cause many serious symptoms.
There are many classic symptoms of sleep apnea, including loud snoring and observed pauses in breathing during the night (usually by your partner). Other symptoms of sleep apnea can include:
However, many women with sleep apnea experience subtle symptoms. Symptoms may not be as severe, and they may not suffer from the more well-known signs of sleep apnea. Many also contribute their symptoms, like fatigue and depression, to other things like life changes, aging, menopause, or other health conditions. This can delay getting treatment and cause many unwanted effects. Therefore, if you think you have sleep apnea, visit our women’s health clinic to find underlying causes of your symptoms.
Sleep apnea doesn’t just affect your sleep, it can influence every part of your life. One less commonly known way that sleep apnea can affect women is through their sex lives. In addition, sleep apnea can put you at risk for potentially life-threatening health issues.
Sleep apnea can have a pretty big impact on your sex life. One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2011 researched the connection between sleep apnea and sexual dysfunction in women. The researchers looked at 80 women who had OSA and compared them to 240 women who didn’t have this sleep disorder. They found that the OSA group was significantly more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction based on their answers to questionnaires.
Sexual dysfunction can mean a lot of different things for women. According to the Mayo Clinic, sexual dysfunction is “persistent, recurrent problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm, or pain.” Some symptoms include things like low sexual desire, difficulty becoming or staying aroused during sexual activities, difficulty achieving orgasm, or even experiencing pain during sex. This can affect your overall quality of life as well as your intimate relationships.
There may be several reasons behind this link between sleep apnea and sexual dysfunction. One potential cause is that sleep deprivation from this sleep disorder can reduce your natural testosterone production. Testosterone is an important hormone for women’s sex drive and sexual function.
Also, many of the symptoms of sleep apnea can interfere with intimacy as well. For example, extreme fatigue can affect your sexual desire and arousal. The same goes for irritability from tiredness as well as depression and anxiety that many women with sleep apnea experience. Therefore, sleep apnea’s effects on sex are pretty complex.
Sleep apnea can also negatively affect your health and overall wellbeing. Sleep apnea can put your body into overdrive and lead to many issues, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, so it’s a serious complication of sleep apnea that could cost you your life.
Also, sleep apnea can increase your risk for other serious issues. For instance, it can increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Another potential complication of untreated sleep apnea is an increased risk for accidents, such as car crashes or work accidents, which can lead to injuries or death. Therefore, it’s important to get treated for sleep apnea to help protect yourself from these many health risks.
How do you know if you’re at risk for sleep apnea? Practically anyone can have sleep apnea, but there are some common risk factors that many women have. Some of the biggest lifestyle factors that increase your risk for sleep apnea include being overweight or obese, living a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and excessive drinking.
Some other risk factors for sleep apnea in women include:
Menopause and PCOS may increase the risk for sleep apnea due to hormone changes, as they lead to lower levels of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones can help maintain proper muscle tone in the airways to prevent the risk of collapse. However, if you have low levels of these hormones, your airways can become weaker and more prone to collapse, leading to OSA.
If you think you might have sleep apnea, the first step is to make an appointment at one of our clinic locations. We offer home sleep testing, which allows you to avoid the cost, inconvenience, and discomfort of visiting a sleep lab. With a home sleep test, you simply wear the device during a normal night and bring the device back. Our doctors analyze the sleep data the device collects and, if applicable, can diagnose you with sleep apnea. Our team then creates a customized treatment plan for you to help you feel better. We provide any medical devices you need and also remotely monitor your treatment and make adjustments as necessary to improve your results and symptoms. For truly comprehensive women’s health care, our team is here for you.
There are several treatment solutions available for women with sleep apnea. Since everyone is different, it’s important to discuss personalized treatment plans with our women’s health care providers.
For some, you may be able to treat and manage sleep apnea through lifestyle changes. Some lifestyle changes might include quitting smoking, reducing how much you drink alcohol, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and losing weight.
Also, for women who experience sleep apnea events primarily when they sleep on their backs, you may benefit from positional therapy. This is essentially retraining yourself to sleep on your side instead of your back to help your airways stay open during the night. There are several approaches to this, but often include wearing a device to discourage you from rolling onto your back as you sleep.
The gold standard for treating sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. CPAP therapy involves increasing pressure in your airways while you sleep to prevent them from narrowing and collapsing. For this treatment, you wear the CPAP device while you sleep at night to reduce the number of apnea events you experience. Many studies have found serious positives of using CPAP therapy for sleep apnea, including fewer health risks, better quality sleep, and increased libido for those who suffer from sleep apnea related sexual dysfunction. Our team can help you determine if CPAP is a good option for you and help you find options that are comfortable and effective for you.
Find health care solutions tailored to you through our teams at HerKare. We are a women’s health clinic committed to helping you feel your best. Our team listens and cares about you. We are here to hear your concerns as well as find and treat underlying causes. Our providers offer treatment solutions for a variety of conditions, including sleep apnea and menopause. Schedule your appointment today to learn how we can help you improve your overall health.