The most amazingly scary experience occurred recently when I sat bolt up right in bed feeling as if I was gagging, with no air; as if someone was chasing me and I had no idea who or where I was.
A little research suggested that I might have the first symptom of sleep apnea, which appears to be common after menopause due to decreased levels of female hormones, say clinical researchers at the University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital. (University Of Toronto (2000, May 9). Sleep Apnea More Common, Severe In Post-Menopausal Women. ScienceDaily. Retrieved)).
Researchers compared the prevalence and severity of sleep apnea between 290 pre- and 400 post-menopausal women. Women under 45 were classified as pre-menopausal while women over 55 were classified as post-menopausal, and any patients with a history of hormone supplementation or premature menopause were excluded.
This study revealed that the normal anatomical markers of sleep apnea; neck size and obesity, were not related. In fact Dr. David Dancey quoted,
"We think the difference may be due to the lower levels of estrogen and progesterone caused by menopause."
Dancey points to previous studies which have shown the median age of menopause is 51 and begins for most women at 47.
Menopause, regardless of age, is associated with poor sleep quality.
Hot flashes that occur during the night, commonly called “night sweats” adversely affect your quality of sleep and as the study revealed so may sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and an increase in the need to urinate. Some studies have also reported that estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is associated with better sleep quality, while others have shown no difference or poor sleep quality.
It seems then that advancing age in a woman may affect the tone of the muscles in her upper respiratory tract which may increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, weight gain and neuro-psychiatric problems including depression and other mood disorders.
I immediately went to see my doctor who sent me to a sleep disorder specialist whose remedy was to wear an uncomfortable and not very attractive CPAP mask. Never, I thought….there must be a more elegant way?
Dissatisfied I continued my pursuit to better understand why and to may amazement learned that there might also be a connection to another one of my very recent and new symptoms, TMJ!
More research and a trip to my dentist explained that sleep apnea and TMJ are common in an older person who had teeth removed as a small child. I guess in the archaic sixties having a “small mouth” meant having a few large teeth removed. Now a days kids get ‘palette expanders’.
It seems however that there is a discreet appliance he can make to wear at night that will keep my airways open and restore the correct alignment of my aching jaw.
I haven’t tried the appliance yet but I did find a non-invasive way to determine whether you have sleep apnea or not using a Sleep Strip (in store) and an herbal supplement Sleep Apnea Remedy (in store), that so far has encouraged a more gentle and calm nights rest. After a month I will do another test to be sure that my sleep apnea is cured.