When I think about sleep apnea, I picture in my mind’s eye some big dude sawing wood, snoring up a storm, and thrashing around all night long. What I don’t picture is a woman going through menopause and struggling to get a good night’s sleep.
While it’s true that more men than women have sleep apnea, women do in fact suffer from this sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is an airway obstruction that occurs while you’re sleeping, forcing you to wake up and catch your breath. People with severe sleep apnea may wake up dozens of times during the night, making it impossible for them to get the deep restful sleep needed for good health. Congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and daytime exhaustion are some of the health problems associated with sleep apnea.
For women who have sleep apnea, many of them develop it during or after menopause. A decrease in the hormones estrogen and progesterone are thought to be the culprit, as they help regulate and promote sleep.
In the clinic, I see women with sleep issues related to menopause who describe a pattern in which they can fall asleep easily. However, they wake in the wee hours and “surf” restlessly between sleep and wakefulness the rest of the night. This pattern is also similar to that of apnea, which is at its worst during the deepest REM sleep, when the work of breathing becomes a little more difficult. Ironically, since most REM sleep occurs during the last third of the night, apnea sufferers also find it the most difficult time to get sufficient deep sleep. The bottom line is that once REM sleep kicks in during the latter half of the night, apnea begins, causing frequent waking.
In Chinese medicine, menopause is most closely tied to your Chinese Kidney, which is responsible for your body constitution, growth, maturation, fertility, and how you will age.
Your Kidney system also houses the vital substances of Essence, Yin, and Yang, which frequently become depleted during menopause. This depletion is the underlying cause behind hot flashes, night sweats, and disturbed sleep.
There is good news in that sleep apnea that develops during menopause may be a temporary thing that resolves itself after the transition of menopause is over. In addition, if you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep, there are some things that you can do. Among them:
-Get a sleep study. Contact your health care provider to find a sleep clinic near you. They will measure the quality of your sleep and your breathing to determine if you are suffering from apnea. If you are, they can suggest solutions that will help you sleep better, which might include a CPAP machine to keep your breathing steady while you sleep.
-Sleep cool. Keep the room where you sleep cool, wear light moisture-wicking pajamas, and open a window if possible.
-Enlist some help from Chinese medicine. Many people use acupuncture to help them sleep better. In addition, Chinese herbs can help nourish your Chinese Kidney and offset some of the side effects of menopause. Interestingly, in some cases herbs can be more effective than acupuncture, as they are better at the job of nourishing your vital substances and regulating hormonal changes.
-Chinese food therapy may also help. Your practitioner can suggest foods that nourish your Kidney, as well as cool some of the heat of hot flashes or night sweats.
The bottom line is that while you may think that women don’t snore or have apnea, the reality is that they do, and it kicks in for many women during menopause. The quality of your sleep is important, because it affects your health in a number of ways. If you believe that you have obstructive sleep apnea, get some help.