Snoring in your sleep? It could be because of the menopause

·3-min read
Rsearchers say hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could help reduce sleep-related breathing issues in women going through the menopause - iStockphoto/iStockphoto
Rsearchers say hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could help reduce sleep-related breathing issues in women going through the menopause - iStockphoto/iStockphoto

Menopause may be to blame for middle-aged women who snore, scientists have found, and HRT may be able to help.

Female sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone drop as women go through menopause and stop ovulating, and this has a knock-on effect on health.

For example, women are known to be more at risk of osteoporosis, depression and cardiovascular disease after menopause.

A new study from Norway looked at more than 700 women and found for the first time that those with lower sex hormone levels were more likely to snore or suffer from sleep apnoea.

The researchers also suggest that adjusting female sex hormones - including with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) - could be a way to combat sleeping problems.

Dr Kai Triebner, the study's author and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bergen, told The Telegraph that the menopause "comes with all sorts of health issues”.

“First there is the menopausal transition with hot flashes, night sweats etc,” he said. “Then there are long-term consequences such as osteoporosis and slower wound healing etc.”

Dr Triebner added that the new study lends evidence to HRT being “beneficial to help women reduce their sleep-related breathing problems, as well as reduce snoring”.

He added that lifestyle changes such as a good diet and sun exposure might also be able to elevate hormone levels naturally to “push the hormone balance in the right direction”.

“Women suffering from fairly severe consequences like sleep disorder breathing could benefit quite a bit from HRT, preferably individualised HRT,” Dr Triebner added.

Of the 774 middle-aged post-menopausal women in the study, 551 (71.2 per cent) snored, and 411 of those women also reported other symptoms of sleep apnoea.

Sex hormones 'crucial for health'

Among all women, a doubling of concentrations of the hormone oestrone was associated with 19 per cent decreased odds of snoring while a doubling of progesterone levels was associated with a 9 per cent decreased risk of snoring.

Of known snorers, a doubling of the concentrations of three oestrogens was associated with 17 per cent to 23 per cent decreased odds of breathing irregularly during sleep.

The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea - in which breathing stops and starts during sleep - is known to be higher in women after menopause.

But until now, no study has examined whether this is the result of altered sex hormone levels.

The reason why a drop in sex hormone levels causes snoring and sleep apnoea remains unknown, but the team suggest it may be caused by a weakening of the muscles in the windpipe or by altering how and where the body stores fat, increasing obstructions in the airways.

But as with many post-menopausal health concerns, HRT may offer hope for afflicted women.

“It is critical to develop strategies to decrease the high prevalence and associated morbidity of obstructive sleep apnoea and adjusting female sex hormone levels might be the key to accomplish this,” the authors write in their paper.

“But further longitudinal studies with repeated measures of sex hormones and objective characterisation of obstructive sleep apnoea symptoms are required to confirm our findings.

“Female sex hormones are crucial for health and disease, and especially after menopause the hormone status should be considered to develop holistic treatment strategies.”

The findings are published in the PLoS One journal.

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