Half of all women given overnight sleep tests for a new study were found to have mild-to-severe sleep apnoea.
Scientists in Sweden monitored the sleep patterns of 400 adult women overnight and found that half experienced at least five episodes an hour when they stopped breathing for longer than 10 seconds - the minimum definition of sleep apnoea.
Among women with hypertension or who were obese - two risk factors for sleep apnoea - the numbers were even higher, reaching 80 to 84 per cent of women.
Worrying: Half of all women given overnight sleep tests for a new study were found to have mild-to-severe sleep apnoea
Many of the women in the study represent mild cases of sleep apnoea.
'How important is the mild sleep apnoea, we don't know,' said Dr. Karl Franklin, the lead author of the study and a professor at Umea University in Sweden.
Terry Young, a professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin, said mild sleep apnoea is important to pay attention to.
'We see that it doesn't go away and it gets worse,' she said.
Sleep apnoea is tied to a higher risk of stroke, heart attack and early death.
One recent study also found that women who have sleep apnoea are more likely to develop memory problems and dementia.
Cause for concern: Sleep apnoea is tied to a higher risk of stroke, heart attack and early death
Franklin said his group wanted to get updated evidence of how common the condition is.
The researchers selected 400 women between the ages of 20 and 70 from a larger population sample of 10,000, and asked them to sleep overnight at home with sensors attached to their bodies.
The sensors measured heart rate, eye and leg movements, blood oxygen levels, air flow and brain waves.
Each apnoea event was defined by at a least a 10-second pause in breathing accompanied by a drop in blood oxygen levels.
Women who had an average of five or more of these events during each hour of sleep were considered to have sleep apnoea.
The study, which was funded by the Swedish Heart Lung Foundation, found that apnoea became more common in the older age groups.
Among women aged 20-44, one quarter had sleep apnoea, compared to 56 percent of women aged 45-54 and 75 per cent of women aged 55-70.
Young said these numbers are higher than her own estimate, but that's likely because she used a more strict definition of sleep apnea than Franklin's group.
Franklin also said his equipment, being newer, is more sensitive in detecting interruptions in breathing.
Severe sleep apnoea, which involves more than 30 breathing disruptions per hour, was far less common.
Just 4.6 per cent of women 45-54 and 14 per cent of women 55-70 had severe cases.
Among women of all ages with hypertension, 14 per cent had severe sleep apnoea, and among women who were obese, 19 per cent had severe apnoea.
Franklin said that if physicians are looking for sleep apnoea among women, examining those who are obese, over 55 or have hypertension is a good place to start.
Young said sleep apnoea is often thought of as a condition of men, but identifying women with it is especially beneficial, because her research has shown that women are good at sticking with treatment.
'The prejudice of excluding women (as potentially having sleep apnoea) has been rampant for a long time. It's gotten better, however, and the (public health) gain in identifying women with sleep apnoea is great,' she said.
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