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Sleep Apnea in Women: Are the Symptoms Different?

Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder in which a person has abnormal pauses in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep. This can be caused by obstruction of the upper airway or by a disruption in the brain’s control of breathing. Although sleep apnea is more common in men, it also affects women, and certain studies suggest that the symptoms experienced by women with sleep apnea can differ from those experienced by men.

What are Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea in Women?

Common symptoms of sleep apnea in women may include difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night, and trouble staying asleep. Women may also experience frequent morning headaches, waking up with an excessively dry mouth, and irritability or depression during the day. Sexual dysfunction, including a decreased sex drive, as well as daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems are also common symptoms of sleep apnea in women.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed in Women?

Since the symptoms of sleep apnea in women can differ from those in men, it is important to consult a medical professional who can perform an in-depth evaluation. A physical examination, a review of symptoms, and a sleep study test (polysomnography) are commonly used to diagnose sleep apnea. Additionally, blood tests, a pulmonary function test, or a computed tomography (CT) scan may be recommended to rule out any other underlying causes of sleep disturbances.

What Causes Sleep Apnea in Women?

Any underlying medical condition, genetic predisposition, hormonal factors, or lifestyle choices can increase a woman’s chances of developing sleep apnea. Certain medical conditions, such as obesity, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and congestive heart failure, can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. It is also thought that periodic limb movements, which is more common in women, diabetes, and reproductive hormone imbalances may contribute to the development of sleep apnea in females.

What are the Health Risks Associated with Sleep Apnea in Women?

If left untreated, sleep apnea can have long-term consequences and increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and depression. Additionally, there is a higher risk of accidents and injuries due to daytime fatigue caused by poor sleep quality and lack of restorative sleep.

How Can Sleep Apnea in Women be Treated?

The treatment for sleep apnea in women is similar to that for men. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is often recommended as the most effective form of treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea. A CPAP machine delivers a gentle, steady flow of air through a mask or nasal prongs, which helps to keep the throat from collapsing and maintain an open airway. Other treatments for sleep apnea in women may include lifestyle changes, certain oral devices, surgery to remove excess tissue in the back of the throat, or medication such as stimulants, antidepressants, or hormone replacement therapy.


Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects both men and women, yet the symptoms and health risks associated with the disorder in females can differ from those in men. If you are a woman and you suspect that you have sleep apnea, it is important to consult a medical professional to receive an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan. Making necessary lifestyle changes, following the prescribed treatment plan, and participating in regular follow-up care can help women with sleep apnea to enjoy better sleep and reduce their risk of developing chronic health problems.