60% of women are concerned about the impact of a lack of sleep, with sleep apnea thought to effect one-in-two women aged 20-70 years of age.
With more than 77% of Australian women feeling tired, sleepy or exhausted each day, there are concerns that many are putting themselves at risk of developing chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, depression and cardiovascular disease.
Research conducted for ResMed by Pure Profile shows that women could unknowingly be living with sleep apnea - a condition generally thought to “a man’s disorder” - but women with sleep apnea tend to experience worse health status than men with the same condition.
Even though one-in-two women aged 20-70 years are thought to be living with the condition, evidence suggests women are often under-diagnosed, or diagnosed with other conditions, such as depression, despite complaining to their doctor of a lack of energy, constant tiredness and morning headaches.
In fact, a recent online poll of found that women were more likely to go to a doctor about their sleep than men (24% compared with 20%), but they were less likely to then be referred to a sleep study (8% v 15%).
“There appears to be two issues at play when it comes to women being accurately diagnosed with sleep apnea,” said Professor David Hillman, Chair, Sleep Health Foundation and Director of the West Australian Sleep Disorders Research Institute, Perth.
“Firstly, when women speak to their doctor they often don’t mention that they snore which is a key indicator for sleep apnea. Rather, they complain of less classic symptoms such as depression or restless legs that don’t trigger suspicions of sleep apnea for doctors.”
“Furthermore, evidence also suggests women may consider snoring “unladylike” and therefore not mention it to their doctor while also being more likely to attend medical appointments on their own, and so information from a partner on snoring, which may assist in a diagnosis, is not be as readily available as it is for men,” explains Professor Hillman.
The survey found that three in 10 women (28%) reported they had been told by their partner that they snore but they either didn’t believe them or felt embarrassed so did nothing.
"With women representing nearly 40% of all newly diagnosed sleep apnea patients, it's important that there are options that consider their unique needs," said Professor Hillman.
“But it is equally important that Australian women - and their doctors - recognise that feeling sleepy or exhausted during the day, regularly waking up with a headache or constantly having difficulty falling asleep should not be ignored, but investigated further, as they could be signs of significant sleep health issues.”
“For those women living with sleep apnea, being able to access therapeutic options that help manage the condition could improve quality of life and overall sense of wellbeing for those affected,” said Professor Hillman.
According to the Mayo clinic, self-care strategies for sleep apnea may include:
at least 30 minutes of moderate activity 3-5 times a week
avoiding alcohol, tranquilisers and sleeping tablets
sleeping on your side or abdomen rather than on your back
keeping nasal passages open at night, and
Women should discuss any sleep problems with their family doctor.
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