Hair Loss and Sleep Apnea?

This is what I posted to the NY Times Blog for an article on hair loss in women:


Hair loss in women is a serious condition with lots of conventional explanations. One area that's never mentioned is the connection to poor sleep quality, especially due to breathing problems at night. A significant percentage of men and women have undiagnosed sleep-breathing problems, with the end extreme being called obstructive sleep apnea. 


It's estimated that about 1/4 of all men and 1/10 of all women have at lease mild sleep apnea, and 90% are not diagnosed. However, there's a variation of sleep apnea called upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), where you'll stop breathing while sleeping, but not long enough to be called obstructive sleep apnea. 


Typically these people (more typically thin women) will have colds hands or feet, prefer not to sleep on their backs, feel tired all the time, no matter how long they sleep, and will usually have at least one parent that snores heavily.


These multiple arousals lead to a chronic low-grade physiologic stress response which heightens the nervous system (and immune system). During times of stress, blood is shunted away from low-priority organs like the GI  system, reproductive organs, the distant extremities and the skin. Chronic lack of blood flow can lead to a number detrimental effects, including hair loss.


It's also been shown that chronic physiologic stress also raises your cortisol levels, lowers your thyroid levels, and alters your estrogen/progesterone/testosterone balance. 


There are also anecdotal reports of people who report hair regrowth after starting sleep apnea treatment.


If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should get checked for UARS. In many cases, UARS progresses into obstructive sleep apnea, especially after menopause. Even if it doesn't help your hair loss, being diagnosed may prevent complications of sleep apnea, including hypertension, diabetes, weight gain, anxiety, depression, and heart disease.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Hair Loss and Sleep Apnea?

  1. STEVE!!  Omigod, this happened to me!!! My hair stylist and I have been trying to figure out why some of my hair is just gone, especially right in the front–it's really thin. Having read this article, now I KNOW it's because of OSA!! 
    The hair loss was noticeable last summer–not sure just when it actually happened, but I'd been unbelievably sick, undiagnosed, with apnea prior. I know that for a fact. The past 6 weeks or so, she and I both have noticed significant re-growth!!  It has to be from CPAP–nothing else has changed.
    The same thing happened when I was first diagnosed with heart disease. It was due to the heavy-duty meds I've been taking since I was diagnosed and eventually it all grew back.
    I canNOT believe apnea was the cause all along!!!  And honestly, you've contributed so much to my recovery to date, and now once again.
     I can't thank you enough.
    You can quote me to anyone you care to. I'm so relieved to know what happened…..
    Susan McCord         :-)

  2. To suggest that hair loss is caused in sleep apnea patients due to the body miminizing oxygen flow to the hair follicles seemsa rather oversimplified answer. Cortisol levels, brain seratonin levels,sex hormone levels, and mineral deficiencies (e.g., magnesium) are also factors in the sleep apnea/hair loss link.

  3. Hi Dr. Park,

    just saw this article. Before my sleep apnea was treated my hair was thin, brittle and always falling out. My roommates always complained about my hair clogging the shower drain. I also used to find hair all over my bed in the morning. My skin used to be very dry and I had weird bruising. Thanks for the interesting article!

  4. Hi Dr. Park,

    I usually don’t respond to websites, but wanted to thank you for your insight! I was researching something for my friend and found your article. I was diagnosed with perimenopause, at age 41. I had testing done because I had not had my period in 10 weeks, and had irregular periods previously. I was also experiencing emotional stress at the time and thought that must be the cause of not having a period, but they said the blood tests show perimenopause. I was also overweight.

    Anyway, about 5 months later I had a sleep study done, diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. I stopped breathing about every other breath for about 10 seconds. I felt very tired over the past 10 years, had thyroid tested, it was okay. Two relatives on separate sides had sleep apnea so I got tested. I have been on my cpap machine for 1 year now, my periods have become more regular. I am trying to lose some weight. I never linked perimenopause to sleep apnea, but it does makes sense. Two very good doctors did not link this. I think you are right! Thank you for your hard work and helpful words!