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Myth or Fact: Do Only Men Snore?
When most people think of snoring, they tend to conjure up images of portly, middle-aged men and exasperated wives. They think of snoring as something that at its best is a sitcom-worthy joke, or at its worse, an irritation.
Sorry to be the one to break it to you, ladies, but you (and I) snore, too! And while it may be embarrassing for some, it can also be the sign of a serious sleep condition. New findings show that snoring poses a greater cardiac risk in women than in men, so it’s crucial that women don’t continue being underdiagnosed with sleep disorders.
Why do we snore?
This question can be answered in a variety of ways, as multiple factors could be responsible for someone’s snoring. Generally speaking, though, snoring occurs when there is a partial obstruction of airflow through the mouth and nose. When we sleep, our muscles relax, including our throat and tongue muscles; when air flows past these relaxed tissues, it causes them to vibrate. The vibration creates the familiar, buzzing sound we associate with snoring.
It’s true that when we’re younger, snoring is more common in men than in women. However, when we reach menopause, the number of women who snore doubles. This effectively evens out the gender-divide, making men and women equally likely to snore.
How does menopause cause snoring in some women?
As women approach menopause, several bodily changes may lead to snoring. Fluctuations in hormones, for example, may be to blame. Estrogen has a protective effect on the muscles that surround the airway, helping prevent full or partial collapse while we sleep. As the body begins to produce less estrogen, this protection ends, and snoring may begin to increase. Age-related loss of muscle-tone could also be to blame, or weight gain. Increased fatty tissue around the throat can cause breathing problems.
Should I be worried about my snoring?
If your snoring is occasional, you may have nothing to worry about. If you find you’re snoring regularly, though, it may be in your best interest to get tested for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep. This could be happening hundreds of times a night, dramatically lowering the amount of oxygen in your blood. This causes your brain to send signals to your nervous system to constrict your blood vessels, in order to increase blood flow to your heart and brain.
In both men and women, individuals with sleep apnea can develop an enlarged left heart ventricle. This means that your heart has to work harder to pump your blood. New studies suggest that women with sleep apnea are even more vulnerable when it comes to cardiac altercations. While the jury is still out on why sleep apnea would damage a woman’s heart more quickly than a man’s, what we do know is that preventative measures, like treating your sleep condition, can keep your heart healthy.
What can I do to make sure I’m getting a healthy sleep?
The stereotype of men always being the one who “saws lumber” at night is a harmful misconception that could keep women from seeking treatment. Awareness is one of the best measures we can take. When we talk about women snoring, we can help destigmatize it, and hopefully increase proper diagnoses of sleep disorders in women. If you’re experiencing daytime fatigue, morning headaches, insomnia, or if your partner observes you gasping for breath at night, a sleep study could give you the answers you need.