Researchers say they have found clinical differences between men and women who have obstructive sleep apnea, a serious condition in which breathing is frequently impeded during sleep.

The study of 130 women and 130 men who had obstructive sleep apnea found that the women were more likely than men to have hypothyroidism or insomnia. They were also more likely to be treated for depression.

These results suggest that doctors should look for sleep apnea in obese women who have a history of any of those three conditions.

"Depression and sleep apnea have similar side effects and can be easily misdiagnosed," says study author Dr. M.H. Kryger, of the Sleep Disorders Centre, St. Boniface General Hospital Research Centre, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

The researchers say they found no significant gender differences in the prevalence of sleep-related symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness, restless legs syndrome, choking on awakening at night, dreaming at the onset of sleep, sleep paralysis, snoring and dreaming during naps.

While it was well known that men have a higher incidence of sleep apnea than women (4% vs. 2%), this study provides more insight into the differences between women and men upon initial clinical presentation of the condition, the researchers say.

Men and women develop typical symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, such as snoring and daytime sleepiness, at approximately the same age (the mid-30s to early 40s).

How to Ease Sleep Apnea

Have you been told that you snore loudly? Do you wake up feeling tired after a full night's sleep? If so, you may have sleep apnea, a potentially serious disorder that occurs when breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

Approximately 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, which is twice as common in men as in women. Treatment may involve using a device called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep your airways open or undergoing a procedure to remove tissue from your nose, mouth or throat.

To avoid sleep apnea, here are some suggestions from the Mayo Clinic…

  • Lose excess weight. Even a slight weight loss may help relieve constriction of your throat.
  • Avoid alcohol and medications such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills. These relax the muscles in the back of your throat, interfering with breathing.
  • Sleep on your side or stomach rather than on your back. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue and soft palate to rest against.

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