Sleep apnea in men vs women

Men and women. Women and men. Equal most of the time, but perhaps not in terms of sleep apnea. There is a greater prevalence of sleep apnea in men. This may be because men actually having sleep apnea more often, or there may be more diagnoses of apnea in men because more men seek a diagnosis (i.e., there may be a stigma for women). However, although men are diagnosed more often, does that mean they are worse off? Not necessarily. A group of researchers recently set out to investigate the consequences of sleep apnea in a group of men and a group of women. They aimed to see whether one group suffered more than another. 

This experiment was carried out using about 40 male and 40 female participants who entered a primary care facility. These participants were screened with multiple measures, specifically the Health Related Quality of Life (HRQL) and the STOP-BANG. The former questionnaire gauges quality of life based on different categories (e.g., physical fitness, daily activities, etc.), and the latter is a reliable questionnaire that gauges the possible presence of sleep apnea. Importantly, these individuals did not undergo an overnight sleep study; they were only screened using the STOP-BANG.

The groups were divided into probable sleep apnea and non-sleep apnea groups. The HRQL scores were compared between men and women who likely (according to the STOP-BAND) have sleep apnea. Results showed that the women had lower quality of life scores via the HRQL questionnaire. Specifically, they had lower scores for the following categories: physical fitness, daily activity ability, and change in health. They also had a slightly lower score for the social class category. An additional test found that quality of life overall was linked with the social class category, so this may have been a crucial factor in lowering quality of life in women with sleep apnea.

Overall, it seems then that women are affected by sleep apnea to a greater extent than men are. An alternative explanation for this finding emerges when looking more closely at the results. The women were more likely to be in the lower social class than men. Given the tight link between social class and quality of life, these results may be confounded by the unequal distribution of social class within the participants. Nevertheless, more work is needed that focuses on gender differences within those suffering from sleep apnea.


Source: Abad, M. F., Rivero, P. J., & Vera, O. J. (2014). [Differences in health-related quality of Life between men and women with sleep-disordered breathing.]. Semergen/Sociedad Espanola de Medicina Rural y Generalista.

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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