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The Silent Link: Menopause and Sleep Apnoea

Poor sleep, irritability, daytime sleepiness… many menopausal women have been there. But when are these symptoms more than that? When should we be worried that these symptoms are obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and what should you do if you suspect this might be you?

Menopause is a natural phase of life that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, typically occurring in their late 40s to early 50s. Alongside the well-known hormonal changes, menopause can bring about various challenges to a woman’s health, including sleep disturbances. One such sleep disorder that often becomes more prevalent during menopause is OSA.

So, what exactly is OSA? OSA is a sleep disorder characterised by interrupted breathing during sleep. When you go to sleep your muscles relax, including those in your throat. In some people the relaxing muscles cause the airways to narrow. If your throat closes completely, you stop breathing for a time – referred to as an apnoea – if it persists for over 10 seconds. This recurring cycle of interruptions not only disrupt your sleep but can also make you feel very sleepy during the day.

As women go through menopause, hormonal changes play a pivotal role in influencing sleep patterns. The decline in oestrogen levels can contribute to various physiological changes, including weight gain. Notably, obesity is closely associated with OSA. This connection arises from the fact that weight gain, even on seemingly unrelated areas such as the tongue, can contribute to restricting the airway, a potential trigger for OSA. Moreover, the changes in hormonal balance can affect the tone of the upper airway muscles, potentially making them more susceptible to collapse during sleep, further exacerbating the risk of OSA.

Interestingly, the symptoms of menopause and OSA can overlap, making it challenging to distinguish between the two. Both conditions can lead to disrupted sleep, mood swings, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. This overlap in symptoms often means that sleep apnoea in menopausal women may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for a prolonged period.

However, there are some key signs and symptoms of OSA to look out for…

- extremely loud heavy snoring -observed episodes of stopping breathing or gasping for air at night - excessive daytime sleepiness - morning headaches - anxiety or depression - high blood pressure

Now you may be wondering, ‘does it even matter if I have sleep apnoea?’. Well, the answer is a resounding yes. OSA has been shown to increase your risk of high blood pressure, put you at risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes type 2 and there are even links to Alzheimer’s disease. The list can go on... so what should you do if you feel you have any of the above signs and symptoms.

The most important step is to go and see a healthcare professional to get yourself assessed.

At the London Dental Sleep Clinic, we fully assess all our snorers and screen all our patients for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) and then if we feel you are displaying signs and symptoms of OSA, we will refer you to have a further medical assessment.

Once diagnosed, there are several options for treatment depending on the severity of OSA which will all be discussed by your healthcare professional. These options include treatments such as a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) and oral appliances (mandibular advancement devices) that dentists like me make! There are also lifestyle changes you can make to help minimise symptoms such as maintaining a healthy weight, trying to avoid alcohol before bed and sleeping on your side as much as you can.

Now the good news is that awareness and proactive measures can significantly improve sleep quality during menopause and mitigate the impact of sleep apnoea. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, seeking medical advice, and exploring suitable treatment options, women can navigate menopause with a focus on achieving restful nights and overall well-being.

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