Gender Differences in Sleep Apnea and Insomnia

Quite often, it is reported that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is more prevalent in men. Interestingly, though, women seem to suffer from insomnia more frequently than men do. Prevalence of these disorders aside, both women and men suffer from OSA and insomnia, and it seems that these two disorders often coincide. What is unknown, however, is whether men and women feel the effects of both of these disorders in a similar manner. Might one of these populations be more susceptible to negative consequences associated with insomnia and OSA than the other?

In a recent study, a team of researchers set out to answer this question. The investigation included an overnight sleep study to assess the presence and severity of OSA. Subjects completed a sleepiness scale, a depression scale, and also a thorough health screening survey. Additionally, all subjects completed a questionnaire regarding insomnia, which is defined as the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep in the middle of the night or early in the morning (also known as awakening too early). The symptoms of men and women who suffered from both OSA and insomnia were compared.

Amazingly, of 35% of the 655 subjects in the study suffered from both OSA and some form of insomnia. In the entire group, women had higher sleepiness, depression, and fatigue levels than did the men. Additionally, these women had a lower health-related quality of life. Interestingly, though, of those who suffered from both OSA and insomnia, it was the men who had greater fatigue and a lower health-related quality of life score than did women1.

For once, women didn’t get the short end of the stick in an OSA study! It seems that in those who suffer from both of these disorders, men have more negative symptoms. All is not lost for the men (and women) who were in this study, for PAP treatments and weight loss are typically effective for treating OSA. In addition, cognitive behavior therapies can help with insomnia. And since those with insomnia are typically less likely to stick with their sleep apnea treatment, it is important to address BOTH issues!



1. Lee MH, Lee SA, Lee GH, Ryu HS, Chung S, Chung YS, Kim WS. Gender differences in the effect of comorbid insomnia symptom on depression, anxiety, fatigue, and daytime sleepiness in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep Breath. 2013 May 9.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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