A Doctor’s Advice: ‘How Do I Manage Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms?’
Simple lifestyle changes help alleviate OSA symptoms.
During menopause, uncomfortable symptoms like night sweats make it harder to get a good night’s sleep. On top of this, hormonal changes due to menopause may result in a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With this condition, your breathing during sleep is interrupted for longer than 10 seconds multiple times a night. Periods of reduced breathing are called hypopneas, while apneas happen when breathing completely stops. OSA can occur in mild to severe forms and symptoms include morning headaches, irritability, and daytime fatigue. One of our readers was dealing with these symptoms and wanted to know the potential cause. She wrote into our expert, Barbara DePree, MD, for advice on the effects of OSA and how to manage them.
Managing Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Q: I’m 50, and my night sweats are so disruptive, waking me multiple times each night. Sometimes I even wake up gasping or feeling like I’m choking. I usually fall back asleep, but in the morning I’m exhausted. I’ve always slept soundly. Are my night sweats behind this?
A: I’m sorry you’re dealing with these troubles, which can certainly take a toll on your mood, energy, and quality of life. What you’re describing sounds like OSA, a condition that causes breaks in breathing while you sleep, then wakes you up to catch a breath. And while your hot flashes are not to blame, it’s likely that menopause itself plays a role. In fact, a 2016 review of studies found that about one fifth of women develop OSA during menopause, while more than half of postmenopausal women have the condition. Though changing hormone levels can contribute to OSA, the main culprit is often weight gain, which can cause airways to narrow.
OSA increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, so it’s important to see your doctor if you suspect you might have it. And while severe cases are treated with continuous airway pressure (CPAP) machines or oral appliances that regulate airflow to help you breathe better, mild cases can be treated with simple changes like sleeping on your side. Tip: Try attaching a tennis ball to the back of your pj’s to prevent you from rolling onto your back.
Another strategy that can help: exercising regularly. Not only does exercise help prevent night sweats, but a 2016 review of studies suggests that it could be beneficial for OSA since it improves upper airway muscle tone, reduces fatigues, and increases restorative sleep time.
Meet Our Expert
Barbara DePree, MD, is a gynecologist in private practice and director of Women’s Midlife Services at Michigan’s Holland Hospital. A Certified Menopause Practitioner, she is the founder of MiddlesexMD.com, an educational resource for women’s sexual health in perimenopause and beyond. To ask her a question, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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