If you're hip on your sleep knowledge, then you probably already know that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is not just a man's disease, but rather common in women, too.
If this is new to you, listen up: For decades it's been thought that women did not normally get OSA, but recent findings and regular clinical observation in sleep labs shows that women not only suffer from OSA, but they often do not even know that they have it.
It's not just common in obese women, either (though carrying extra weight is a major risk factor). Age, physiological structure of the cranium and jaw, pharmaceutical interactions, estrogen levels, pregnancy status, and other medical conditions can all contribute to sleep apnea.
The consequences of untreated sleep apnea for women mirror those for men, as well:
High blood pressure
Increased risk for stroke
Development of heart disease
Onset of diabetes
However, women with untreated OSA have been shown to actually suffer higher degrees of brain damage as an outcome when compared to their male counterparts.
In a multi-year study conducted at UCLA, "Sex Differences in White Matter Alterations Accompanying Obstructive Sleep Apnea," researchers confirmed that women, in fact, not only suffer brain damage from OSA (which is true for men, as well), but that they suffer it differently than men.
The areas in the front of the brain, which are responsible for decision-making and management of mood, were shown to have more OSA-related damage than in the same brain areas in men. This damage can lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms in women who have untreated OSA.
The differences were so pronounced in the study that its chief investigator, Paul Macey, concludes that "doctors should consider that [OSA] may be more problematic [for women] and therefore need earlier treatment in women than men."
Never assume that just because you are a slim young woman, that you are less likely to have OSA. If somebody tells you that you snore loudly and gasp or stop breathing in your sleep, take their observation seriously and consult a medical professional. Earlier treatment of hidden sleep breathing disorders like apnea is not only ideal, but critical for managing your overall health.
Source: “Sex Differences in White Matter Alterations Accompanying Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” Macey PM, Kumar R, Yan-Go FL, Woo MA, Harper RM. Sleep. 2012 December 1; 35(12): 1603–1613. Published online 2012 December 1. doi: 10.5665/sleep.2228
This article originally appeared in SleepyHeadCENTRAL and is reprinted here with permission by the author. ©2017. All rights reserved. [Sellman, TK. (2015, September 19): “Today's #Sleeptember FACT --- Sleep apnea and the brains of women.” Retrieved from https://sleepyheadcentral.blogspot.com/2015/09/todays-sleeptember-fact-sleep-apnea-and.html.]