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The Snoring Stigma: More Women Have Sleep Apnea Than Previously Thought

March 02, 2020

Most women don’t like to admit they snore. Perhaps it’s a matter of pride or because of the negative stigma attached to the so-called “freight train” noises that can disrupt a partner’s sleep. No matter the reason, the reluctance to admit to being a snorer can have serious consequences on a woman’s health.

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Snoring is one of the most common signs of sleep apnea, a disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts in the middle of the night. Left untreated, sleep apnea has been linked to a host of health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

Research on How Snoring Affects Men and Women

The Stigma

Within society, it has been accepted that men are more likely to have sleep apnea than women. Because of this supposed fact, efforts to encourage the disorder’s diagnosis may be imbalanced to target men. Although this stigma has been supported for years, researchers are slowly discovering evidence supporting the conclusion that women have just as much trouble with sleep disorders (like sleep apnea) as men, but they don’t speak up as much.

The Research

A study in Israel evaluated a group of adults for suspected sleep disorders and led to interesting results. “Women tend to underreport their own snoring and underestimate its loudness, leading to underdiagnosis of sleep conditions.”

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that 88 percent of the women evaluated were, in fact, snorers—but only 72 percent admitted that they snored. Contrast this with the men, 93 percent of whom self-reported snoring and were measured as such.

Women also underreport the intensity in which they snore, describing it as milder. However, that’s not what the study found. Instead, both sexes were reported as snoring at almost an identical volume. “We found that although no difference in snoring intensity was found between genders, women tend to underreport the fact that they snore and to underestimate the loudness of their snoring,” said lead investigator Nimrod Maimon. “The fact that women reported snoring less often and described it as milder may be one of the barriers preventing women from reaching sleep clinics for a sleep study.”

Why the Stigma?

It’s likely, the study’s authors said, that social stigmas and sex-based stereotypes play a role in the underreporting of snoring in women. Snoring can be seen as “unladylike.” Most people picture snorers as middle-aged, overweight men. All of these factors help to create an embarrassing and shameful stigma attached to snoring and sleep apnea. Women don’t want to be associated with it.

The Conclusion

Forget the stigma that more men have sleep apnea than women. The reality is that women also face genuine risks of developing the sleep disorder. If anything, their health risks have increased because women don’t get as much sleep as they used to. According to the Labor Department’s annual American Time Use Survey, working women are sleeping fewer hours a night than in previous years. In 2018, the data showed that they slept about eight and a half hours per night which was less than 2017’s result of eight hours and 40 minutes.

Other Sleep Apnea Symptoms in Women

It’s important to note that snoring and sleep apnea aren’t always related. In fact, some people diagnosed with sleep apnea do not snore. Other symptoms include gasping or choking during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, halts in breathing, headaches, dry mouth, or sore throat upon waking. A woman’s chance of having sleep apnea also rises dramatically while pregnant and after entering menopause.

Sleep Apnea Treatment

The good news is that sleep apnea is treatable. The most common sleep apnea treatment is the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine while sleeping. The first step to being treated is being diagnosed.

Because women have been shown to underreport their snoring and sleep apnea or other sleep issues, it is crucial for them to change their behavior by speaking up and seeking out medical help. Lunella can help by letting you test for sleep apnea in the comfort of your own home. Lunella is the first and only single-use home sleep test which can provide an accurate diagnosis in just a few days. If your test result indicates that you have sleep apnea, you can work with your doctor to find the right treatment.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, an at-home sleep test can be an easy, convenient way to find out. Lunella allows consumers to take a sleep apnea test from the comfort of their own home and receive a proper data-driven diagnosis from a board-certified sleep physician and a prescription for treatment, if necessary.

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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