First For Women

What’s causing this interrupte­d sleep?



I’m 50, and my night sweats are so disruptive, waking me multiple times each night. Sometimes I even wake up gasping or feeling like I’m choking. I usually fall back asleep, but in the morning I’m exhausted. I’ve always slept soundly. Are my night sweats behind this?


I’m sorry you’re dealing with these troubles, which can certainly take a toll on your mood, energy and quality of life. What you’re describing sounds like obstructiv­e sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that causes breaks in breathing while you sleep, then wakes you up to catch a breath. And while your hot flashes are not to blame, it’s likely that menopause itself plays a role. In fact, studies find that about 20% of women develop OSA during perimenopa­use, while up to 67% of postmenopa­usal women have the condition. Though changing hormone levels can contribute to OSA, the main culprit is often weight gain, which can cause airways to narrow.

OSA increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, so it’s important to see your doctor if you suspect you might have it. And while severe cases are treated with continuous airway pressure (CPAP) machines or oral appliances that regulate airflow to help you breathe better, mild cases can be treated with simple changes like sleeping on your side (try attaching a tennis ball to the back of your pj’s to prevent you from rolling onto your back).

Another strategy that can help: exercising regularly. Not only does it help prevent night sweats, but Brazilian researcher­s found that it’s even more beneficial than weight loss for OSA since it improves upper airway muscle tone, reduces fatigue and increases restorativ­e sleep time.

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