Healthy women in their postmenopausal years are 50 percent more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea than their premenopausal or perimenopausal counterparts, according to new findings published in the journal Menopause.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. Individuals living with mild to moderate forms of the condition experience 30 or fewer interruptions per night, while moderate to severe cases are 30 or more interruptions per night.
Individuals with severe cases of OSA may stop breathing hundreds of times during sleep.
Researchers estimate that about 22 million Americans are living with some form of sleep apnea and that 80 percent of those have moderate to severe forms of OSA.
Many individuals living with OSA significantly underestimate the seriousness of the condition. Still, recent studies have linked the condition to an increased risk of post-surgical complications and death after surgical procedures.
Other serious side effects of the condition include a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, hardened arteries, stroke, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Individuals living with OSA also have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, dementia and depression.
The exact connection between OSA and menopause is unclear. Still, several studies support the link and show evidence that women often report having a more difficult time falling asleep, frequently wake throughout the night and have difficulty falling back to sleep.
The study was conducted using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging, which collected data from 6,179 women between the ages of 45 and 60.
The study participants self-reported their menopausal status, and those had had hysterectomies were excluded from the research.
Participants completed assessments regarding a range of variables, including overall sleep satisfaction, how many hours of sleep they got per day, sleep-onset insomnia, sleep-maintenance insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Other variables included rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, restless leg syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea.
The researchers then used linear regression analysis to compare each variable between postmenopausal, premenopausal and perimenopausal participants.
Compared with premenopausal or perimenopausal women, women who were finished with menopause were more likely to report that they needed at least 30 minutes to fall asleep compared to participants in the pre- or perimenopausal stages.
Postmenopausal women were also more likely to have OSA than other groups.
The study also revealed that there were no distinct differences between the groups when assessing sleep dissatisfaction, daytime somnolence disorder, sleep-maintenance insomnia disorder, restless leg syndrome or rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder.
The researchers in the study also noted that for many women, their insomnia symptoms began soon before and just after menopause began, which reveals a temporal link between the two conditions.
Source: Healio. Menopause associated with insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea risk. 18 December 2019.