As women get older, a good night’s sleep seems to become more elusive. From feeling stressed and unable to settle down to needing to use the bathroom, there are many reasons that people cannot seem to sleep through the night.
A commonly heard complaint is that people can’t sleep because their partner or roommate snores. Although snoring can be a problem at any age, snoring is more prevalent in older adults. According to a study reported on Snorelab, sources indicate that fewer than 10% of people ages 12-29 years of age say they frequently snore compared to more than 40% of people over the age of 50 who say that they snore.
But while many people may hear their partner’s snoring, they may not realize that what is keeping them from getting a good night’s rest is their own snoring – and the correlation between menopause and snoring might surprise you.
Snoring is an annoying sound made when people sleep due to an obstruction of air movement when breathing. Snoring can sound like a wheeze or a whistle, and it can be deafening, disrupting the sleep of a bed partner or roommate. Even if a person doesn’t realize they are snoring (and seem to be sleeping soundly), snoring can still impact the quality of the sleep the person is getting.
People may believe that snoring is predominantly an issue for men. But it turns out that snoring is a big problem for women as well, especially as they get older and enter menopause.
There are several reasons why women may begin snoring (or snoring may worsen) as they get older. Stephanie S. Faubion, MD, MBA, Medical Director, The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), explains, “The prevalence of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea increase considerably during the menopause transition.” Faubion continues, “There are some structural changes in the airway associated with the decrease in estrogen. In addition, there is an age-related increase in body mass index.”
It is possible to snore without realizing you are doing it. Even if a partner or roommate brings it to their attention, many women don’t believe they are snoring. “Women are 2-3 times less likely than men to report the classic symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (snoring, apneas, snorting, and gasping),” explains Faubion. Instead, Faubion says, “(Women) are more likely to report nonspecific symptoms such as headache, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia and sleep disruption,” all of which can be caused by snoring.
If you have started snoring or your snoring has recently worsened, then make an appointment to see a physician.
Faubion explains, “Because obstructive sleep apnea (when patients stop breathing at night) is associated with a number of adverse consequences, including hypertension, impaired glucose tolerance, stroke, depression and cognitive impairment and is undiagnosed in the majority of women, it is important for women who snore to be evaluated for sleep apnea.”
Although men are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea, women can have it too. A physician can go over treatment options, which may include using a CPAC machine at night, lifestyle changes, or surgery.
Assuming snoring is not due to medical issues, what can be done?
For starters, try changing sleep positions (lying on one side rather than sleeping on your back) or using different pillows. Since nasal congestion can cause snoring, using a decongestant, nasal steroid, or room humidifier can be helpful. Another suggestion is to drink more water during the day since dehydration can lead to snoring.
Other fixes for snoring include making lifestyle changes. Some women find that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) decreases snoring (although most go on HRT for different reasons). Losing weight can also reduce snoring.
Midlife weight gain is typical for both men and women. If you have put on some weight with age, especially in the midsection, losing 5-10 pounds can help decrease snoring.
Alcohol consumption, especially in the hours before bedtime, can also cause people to snore. As people get older and have a more relaxed schedule, they may find themselves partaking in alcoholic beverages more frequently than when they were younger. Alcohol relaxes the throat and mouth muscles, which can cause snoring. The same is true for many prescription sedatives and sleep aids.
While alcohol may help a person fall asleep, it can impact sleep quality. This can lead to a less restful night’s sleep. Studies have also suggested that cigarette smoking can increase instances of snoring.
Most importantly, don’t be self-conscious if you start snoring with age.
Faubion says, “This isn’t about embarrassment; it’s about significant health consequences related to undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea.” After a visit to the doctor to rule out any major health issues, try some of the suggestions above. Hopefully, you will be getting those much-needed, uninterrupted zzz’s again soon.