Sleep apnoea symptoms: Differences in men and women


Human beings need about seven to eight of sleep – and it is not just a remedy for those under-eye circles but a lot of other health issues as well. Sound sleep benefits the body overall and helps in repairing damaged cells and the immune system.

“While some people lack sleep due to their schedules or work, there are also those who suffer from what is called sleep disorders. It is alarming to note that not many people take these seriously and are, therefore, also prone to other health conditions such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. One such common sleep disorder is Sleep Apnoea, said Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical.

There are typically three types of sleep apnoea that one needs to be aware of:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the most prevalent form of the problem wherein throat muscles tend to relax.
Central Sleep Apnea: This is a condition when the brain signals to the muscles that control breathing become irregular.
Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: This is a complicated and treatment-emergent situation where the person is affected with both Obstructive as well as Central Sleep Apnea.

“While Obstructive Sleep Apnea affects both genders, it is typically believed that men are more prone to it. The 8:1 ratio of men vs women is probably the cause behind it. However, there is a need for greater awareness about this problem as it poses several serious risks to one’s health. It can cause heart ailments and even fatalities. Problems such as feeling fatigued even after waking up in the morning and snoring are the commonest manifestations of sleep apnoea,” he told

He added that In 2017, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine conducted a study that discovered that men and women have different experiences of sleep apnoea. “While the prevalence of the problem is more widespread among men, it is found to be more severe among women. The differences in symptoms of sleep apnoea among men and women are caused by their physiological differences influencing their body processes and the impact of various treatments on them,” he added.

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Below, he highlights the differences:

Sleep apnoea symptoms in women

The symptoms of sleep apnoea are not that straightforward which can result in them remaining undiagnosed. Unlike men, women might not snore loudly enough to be noticed. However, they may show visible symptoms such as insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue. The lack of proper sleep causes discomfort in functions during the daytime. Other common symptoms among women are morning headaches and moodiness. Obesity and additional weight can also cause sleep apnoea as the former might narrow the airways and make it more difficult to breathe during sleep. Another women-specific risk of sleep apnoea is the hormonal changes caused by menopause which can alter breathing and airways. Women should therefore consult a specialist if they regularly feel exhausted or experience headaches.

Sleep apnoea symptoms in men

For men, the most visible and audible symptom of sleep apnoea is snoring. According to data available, roughly 34 million Indians suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea and the prevalence rate is at 14 per cent in men and 12 per cent in women. Male snoring is usually louder and more disturbing for others compared to female snoring. That’s also the reason why men or their partners are often actively seeking a solution for snoring and eventually getting the OSA diagnosed.

However, the OSA symptoms among women such as drowsiness, fatigue and weaker memory are often mistaken as causes of other issues and they don’t get diagnosed. This lack of diagnosis or ignorance can lead to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and hypertension in women. Sometimes, it can also cause further risks such as hypothyroidism, cognitive impairment, dementia, and depression.

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Treatment of OSA

Since there are clear differences in symptoms among men and women, the treatment outcomes might also differ. However, not enough studies have been conducted so far to identify such variations in treatment response. It has been observed that the amount of airway pressure required for men and women might differ due to the physiological differences in the respiratory tract. Men need more airway pressure than women to keep the breathing running throughout the night.

In conclusion

Timely identification of OSA is extremely important. Lack of proper sleep can be detrimental to the body’s growth and recovery from illnesses as well as its smooth functioning. This holds equally true for both genders. If you are experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms, it is imperative to consult a doctor and get your sleep apnoea treated.

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