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menopause and sleep apnea

By | Fact Checked |

Were you diagnosed with sleep apnea once you reached menopause? Did you begin to experience symptoms of sleep apnea once your periods stopped? 

Although women can develop sleep apnea prior to reaching menopause, symptoms of this sleep disorder are more likely to appear in women in menopause. Some experts have looked into the relationship between menopause and sleep apnea and here’s what we know thus far.

What is sleep apnea?

This sleep disturbance is a potentially serious condition in which a person’s breathing stops and starts repeatedly throughout the night. These interruptions can occur several to 30 or more time an hour all night long.

Read about menopause and sleep problems

The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat relax. This blocks the flow of air into the lungs, which in turn can reduce the oxygen level in your blood. The brain recognizes that you are having difficulty breathing and wakes you up briefly so you can reopen your airway. These awakenings are typically so brief you don’t remember them. However, you may also choke or gasp, which may wake you up.  

Risk factors for OSA include:

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  • Overweight/obesity
  • Older age
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Presence of certain medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, asthma or other lung conditions, high blood pressure, or hormonal disorders
  • Use of sedatives, tranquilizers, or alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Nasal congestion because of allergies or structural abnormalities
  • Having a thick neck (which may be accompanied by narrower airways)

How is sleep apnea associated with menopause?

Men are two to three times more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. However, this changes once women reach menopause. It’s been known for a while that the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea is greater among women in menopause. This has been believed to be linked to fluctuations in hormone balance that occurs beginning in perimenopause and beyond. A group of researchers set out to explore this idea in a population-based study that involved 774 women aged 40 to 67 years from seven countries. The results were published in June 2022.

Here’s what the researchers found:

  • A doubling of serum concentrations of estrone and progesterone was associated with a 19 percent and 9 percent decreased odds of snoring, respectively.
  • Among women who snored, a doubling of concentrations of 17B-estradiol (the main female sex hormone), estrone, and estrone 3-sulfate was associated with an 18 percent, 23 percent, and 17 percent decline, respectively, in the odds of irregular breathing.
  • A doubling of progesterone concentration was associated with a 12 percent decreased odds of waking up abruptly with a choking episode.

The authors of the study concluded that middle-aged women who had low serum levels of estrogen and progesterone are more likely to experience snoring and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. 

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

If you sleep you may not know you have sleep apnea. If you have a sleep partner, they may tell you that you snore loudly. Some of the other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Loud snoring: although this isn't always a sign of sleep apnea it should be investigated.
  • Waking up gasping or chocking. This can be because you have stopped breathing briefly and it's your body's way of restarting your breathing.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness: This can include dozing off at work or while driving.
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth or sore throat
  • Attention difficulties and forgetfulness
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Sudden drops in blood oxygen

Read about why does menopause affect my sleep?

How to manage sleep apnea naturally

If you are experiencing mild sleep apnea—that is, the condition is not affecting your daily lifestyle to a point that is disruptive or disturbing for you—several natural approaches are suggested:

  • Lose weight 
  • Stop smoking
  • Change your sleep position. According to Kirstin Knobbe, MD, a sleep specialist at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, sleeping on your side with your back mostly straight “is the best sleep position as it reduces apnea severity and snoring.” Be sure to choose a pillow that allows you to keep your back and neck straight.
  • If you have nasal allergies, use a neti pot with saline solution or try butterbur supplements to manage symptoms.
  • Some yoga poses can improve respiratory strength and improve oxygen levels.
  • Researchers have seen a link between low magnesium levels and obstructive sleep apnea. They found that sleep deprivation, which is a consequence of sleep apnea, seems to deplete magnesium levels among people with this sleep disorder. A high-quality magnesium supplement may provide some relief in sleep apnea individuals. Try Morphus Magnesium.
  • If the air is dry, use of a humidifier at night can open your airways, support clearer breathing, and reduce congestion. You might want to add a few drops of peppermint, eucalyptus, or lavender essential oil to the humidifier. These essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties.

When to see your doctor

If you are unable to improve your symptoms or your symptoms get worse, see your doctor. You may be sent to participate in a sleep study so your symptoms can be monitored and analyzed and a treatment plan can be developed.

Bottom line

Obstructive sleep apnea is more common among women once they reach menopause. Natural management techniques may help, and if they don’t, consult your healthcare provider.  

  • Al Wadee Z et al. Serum magnesium levels in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biomedicines 2022; 10(9):2273

  • Anthony K. 6 lifestyle remedies for sleep apnea. Healthline 2023 Mar 29

  • Hachul H et al. The effect of menopause on objective sleep parameters: data from an epidemiologic study in São Paulo, Brazil. Maturitas 2015 Feb; 80(2):170-78.

  • Olsson R. 7 healthy tips for better sleep when you have obstructive sleep apnea. Banner Health 2022 Mar 14

  • Siguroardottir ES et al. Female sex hormones and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea in European women of a population-based cohort. PloS ONE 2022 Jun 22; 17(6):e0269569

  • Sleep apnea. Mayo Clinic 2023 Apr 6

Lisa is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) who focuses on helping women find relief in perimenopause and menopause. Lisa has more than eight years of experience in the health and wellness space. She is also in perimenopause and experiences the occasional hot flashes, some anxiety, and irregular cycles. She is passionate about listening to her body, eating as much of a whole-food diet as possible, and exercising for strength and longevity.