Sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by snoring and daytime sleepiness that has been linked to cardiovascular disease, has primarily been viewed as a male problem, but a new Swedish study suggests the sleep disorder is also a common problem among women.

Dr. Karl A Franklin of Umea University Hospital in Sweden and colleagues noted in the study released Wednesday that there have been only a few epidemiological studies conducted in women, and the frequency of the disorder in women "is still uncertain."

Obstructive sleep apnea, in which a person has short pauses in breathing during sleep, may be caused by a temporary collapse of the airway. The gaps in breathing can last 10 to 30 seconds, and may occur dozens or hundreds of times each night.

For their study, Franklin and the other Swedish researchers investigated 400 women from a population-based random sample of 10,000 women aged 20 to 70. The women answered a questionnaire and were monitored overnight.

Obstructive sleep apnea was found in 50 per cent of the women subjects, with 14 per cent of them having a severe form of the disorder.

The study was funded by grants from the Swedish Heart Lung Foundation. The researchers say the funding played no role in the study, and no conflict of interest was reported.

Canadians with sleep apnea

According to a 2009 Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) survey, nearly 860,000 Canadian adults were told by a health professional that they have sleep apnea.

The agency's research, done in conjunction with Statistics Canada as part of the Canadian Community Health Survey, found twice as many men as women reported they had the sleep disorder.

As well, 25 per cent of adults reporting sleep apnea rated their general health as fair or poor compared to 11 per cent in the general population.

Of specific concern is that compared to the general adult population, those who reported a sleep apnea diagnosis were also:

- 2.5 times more likely to report having diabetes.

- 1.8 times more likely to report hypertension.

- 2.2 times more likely to report heart disease.

- 2.2 times more likely to report a mood disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, mania or dysthymia.

ALSO: 10 ways to get the best sleep:
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  • Keep Up With Your Commitments

    Just like any relationship, sleeping better also requires you not to cheat -- your schedule, that is. Try to sleep around the same time each day to fall into a daily routine.

  • Get 7 To 8 Hours Of Sleep

    They say you need seven to eight hours of sleep every day -- Cederberg says 'they' are right. She says most adults function the best with at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

  • Turn Off The Lights

    To ensure a good night's sleep, make sure your room is dark. Close the curtains, turn off your lamp and the television. Cederberg says the smallest amount of light could affect your sleep -- use an eye mask if you need to.

  • Test Your Pillows -- Really

    Cederberg suggests spending a day testing out different types of pillows, like feather or foam ones, to see which one is the best fit for you. You should never test a pillow if you're tired though -- you may just like everything in the store.

  • Stay Fit

    Exercising isn't only good for your health, it can give you energy throughout the day. Challenging your body will also help you rest better, Ceberberg says.

  • Keep Your Bedroom Clean

    Make sure your room is tidy before you sleep. Switch up your linens once every two weeks, keep your room dust free and Cederberg recommends adjusting the temperature to 18 degrees Celsius for the best zZZ environment.

  • Block Out Noise

    If you live in the city, the sounds of cars and buses may be your morning wake up call (or the annoyances keeping you up at night). Cederberg suggests using ear plugs to block out unwanted noise.

  • Put Your Phone Away

    Another distraction before sleeping is playing with your phone or answering texts. Put your phone in another room to help fall asleep with a clear mind and not worry about a meeting the next day.

  • Say No To Heavy Meals

    Midnight snack cravings? Try to say no. Eating heavy foods right before bed will make it harder for your body to digest and make you tired the next morning.

  • Find A Good Mattress

    Even though pillows ensure a good night's rest -- a good mattress is just as important.