The people who are most at risk for serious sleep disordered breathing are older men, typically overweight. But it’s important to realize that you could be affected by the condition if you’re none of those things.
As one writer told Elle Magazine, there’s a kind of sleep disordered breathing that’s been nicknamed “the young, thin, beautiful woman’s sleep disorder.” That may seem funny, but Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS) is no laughing matter.
UARS describes a condition where your breathing brings in air while you sleep, but not enough air to meet the body’s needs. Over time, this leads to a partial oxygen shortage and the body awakes slightly to restore airflow.
If you think that sounds a lot like sleep apnea, you’re not alone. Some doctors argue that UARS is just a mild form of sleep apnea. It’s possible to make this argument, but what often sets UARS apart is that the symptoms are often disproportionate to the disruption of airflow.
With UARS, people may not show huge deviations in oxygen saturation or have a high apnea/hypopnea index (AHI). But when it comes to some of the daytime symptoms, they are often as serious as people who have much more sleep disturbance in these objective measures.
As a result, many people argue that UARS is not about the airflow so much as it is the body’s and brain’s response to the airflow, something analogous to sensitization in TMJ.
Realizing Your Risk
UARS often goes undiagnosed for many reasons.
First, sleep disordered breathing can be hard to diagnose in the first place. Probably 80% or more of sleep apnea sufferers are still undiagnosed. People and even their doctors aren’t as aware of these conditions as they should be.
And then there’s the problem of demographics. When doctors do think about sleep disordered breathing, they often think of the typical demographic. It’s hard for them to think that the slender young woman who is their patient can be suffering from sleep apnea. Basically, it becomes the last thing on the list of possibilities, and many women try basically everything else before considering it might be sleep disordered breathing. Misdiagnosis with chronic fatigue, pain disorders, or depression and other psychological conditions is common.
Another barrier to diagnosis is that snoring may not be as prevalent in UARS. And when it does occur, women who sleep singly won’t notice it. And if they sleep with a man, he may be snoring even more loudly or may just be better at sleeping through the sound.
Some symptoms women should look out for include:
- Waking up unrested
- Morning headaches
- Daytime sleepiness
- Mood swings or psychological difficulties
Many UARS sufferers try to ignore these symptoms and just “tough it out,” but this may prove impossible in the long term. It’s best to get treatment while the symptoms are minor and manageable.
The good news is that UARS is highly treatable. Once it’s been diagnosed, UARS can be treated with many of the same treatments as sleep apnea or snoring.
Because people with UARS are often young, image-conscious, and dynamic, CPAP often isn’t a very appealing treatment. Instead, appliance therapy can often be a more comfortable and convenient treatment approach.