Updated at: 11-03-2022 - By: Jane Brody

People with sleep apnea have breathing problems while they’re asleep, which is a rather typical occurrence. A narrow or blocked upper airway is the most prevalent cause of sleep apnea, which is the most common kind. Breathing via a straw is analogous to doing so. Those with severe OSA may experience as many as 30 breathing interruptions a night, depending on the severity.

Several major linkages between obesity and sleep apnea are developing in the medical community’s understanding of the condition. Obesity can worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea and increase the dangers to one’s health. It’s a never-ending cycle of poor sleep followed by overeating. Many studies have shown that losing weight can help with sleep apnea, which is encouraging. Sleep apnea and obesity can interact in a variety of ways, so it’s vital to be aware of this.

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What Is Sleep Apnea?

People with sleep apnea repeatedly stop breathing while they are asleep. You can stop breathing for as little as a few seconds or as long as a few minutes. Despite the fact that sleep apnea is not usually life-threatening, it can nonetheless have a substantial influence on your overall health and well-being People with sleep apnea have a higher risk of heart attacks, according to research published in the medical literature. Treatment options for this condition may be something you’re wondering about. People with sleep apnea may have heard that decreasing weight is helpful in treating the condition. What’s the truth about this, please?

Sleep Apnea And Weight

There appears to be a strong link between fat and sleep apnea, according to studies. Overweight people are more likely to experience this type of problem. Sleep apnea does not affect everyone who is obese. In the same way, not everyone with sleep apnea is obese. However, if you’re overweight, you should undergo a physical exam to make sure you’re healthy. This can help you assess if weight loss is an option for you or not. The neck circumference is typically measured as part of this process. There is an increased risk of sleep apnea if the circumference of a person’s neck is 17 inches or more in men, and 16 inches or more in women.

The Importance of Weight Loss

Obesity and sleep apnea go hand in hand, as research shows. Having a lot of excess tissue at the back of your throat might cause your airways to become blocked while you sleep, which can lead to snoring.

Getting in shape is much easier said than done, yet it is possible to see actual progress in this area. Sleep apnea and other health issues (such as heart disease) can be eliminated if overweight and obese people shed weight. Sleep apnea symptoms can be greatly improved by losing merely ten percent of one’s body weight. A large weight loss may potentially heal the illness in certain circumstances.

How Excess Weight Causes Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is more common in those who are overweight or obese than in those who are in good health. Pharyngeal fat is a type of neck fat that develops as a result of a person’s weight gain. While sleeping, pharyngeal fat might obstruct a person’s upper airway. One of the most prevalent signs of sleep apnea is loud snoring, which is caused by air being squeezed into a narrowed airway.

Excess belly girth can also reduce a person’s lung volume by compressing the chest wall. The upper airway is more likely to collapse during sleep as a result of a reduced lung capacity, which reduces airflow. The risk of OSA rises in tandem with a rise in BMI, which assesses one’s body fat based on one’s height and weight. OSA risk is six times greater when a person puts on even 10 percent of their body weight.

There are a few uncommon reasons for sleep apnea, such as swollen tonsils that obstruct the airway, an abnormally wide or narrow throat, endocrine abnormalities (such as diabetes and thyroid illness), acid reflux, lung disease, and heart disease. However, it is estimated that 60–90% of persons with OSA are obese.

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Gain?

Even while obesity is a well-known risk factor for OSA, new data reveals that this association is mutual. To put it another way, lack of sleep results in a rise in ghrelin (an appetite-stimulating hormone) while decreasing leptin, both of which boost the body’s desire for high-calorie foods. Overeating, obesity, and decreased fat loss during calorie restriction are all linked to sleep deprivation, according to research.

Those with sleep apnea appear to be more vulnerable to weight gain than those without, which suggests that OSA patients may be more at risk for weight gain than healthy individuals. In one study, participants with OSA gained an average of 16 pounds in the year coming up to their diagnosis, compared to BMI-matched individuals without OSA. This illustrates the point.

Those with sleep apnea may also struggle to maintain a healthy weight due to a lack of energy.

A typical sleep apnea symptom is daytime tiredness, which is caused by a lack of restful sleep. Sleep apnea patients may be less active in the mornings because of their excessive sleepiness, according to research. Obese persons, who are more likely to have shortness of breath and chest discomfort as a result of physical exertion, may be particularly affected by this. Weight gain can occur if you don’t adjust your food and exercise habits.

Health Effects of Sleep Apnea and Excess Weight

Patients with sleep apnea put their cardiovascular, metabolic, and pulmonary systems under a great deal of stress since they don’t get enough good sleep. Obesity can increase the risk of heart, lung, and metabolic disorders, which may compound the health difficulties of those who are overweight.

Sleep Apnea and Cardiovascular Health

A person’s entire cardiovascular system is impacted in multiple ways by sleep apnea. The body’s oxygen supply decreases with each pause in breathing, setting off the “fight or flight” response. A jump in blood pressure and heart rate causes the sleeper to wake up and reopen their airway when this happens. Throughout the night, this cycle repeats itself. Atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels) and heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure are all connected with the cyclic rise and fall of oxygen levels in the blood.

There are numerous other health complications associated with obstructive sleep apnea, including elevated blood glucose levels, disruption of the neurological system that regulates heartbeat and blood circulation, and insulin resistance. As a result, among other things, sleep apnea is linked to heart, lung, and metabolic issues:

  • High blood pressure (high blood pressure).
  • Arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation.
  • A heart attack.
  • There are two types of strokes: transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or “mini-strokes,” and stroke.
  • The condition of having a heart attack.
  • Diabetic type 2.
  • syndrome of metabolic dysfunction (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia).

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome and Sleep Apnea

OSA is a common complication of obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHSS) (OHS). Having too much weight on one’s chest causes the lungs to get compressed, making it difficult for them to take deep, well-paced breaths. Up to 90% of those with OSA and OHS both have sleep apnea, but this is not always the case. Obesity-related heart disease (OHSD) is more common in people with a BMI over 50, with prevalence reaching over 50%.

It is possible that OHS can cause high blood pressure and heart failure, as well as an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the blood, similar to sleep apnea. Cardiovascular disease is a major concern for anyone who suffers from either of these illnesses. OSA patients with severe OHS are at greater risk of dying, which is unfortunate.

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Can Losing Weight Cure Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea treatment begins with lifestyle and behavioral changes, just like treating many other conditions. This includes striving toward a healthy weight for the vast majority of OSA sufferers. It is possible to have limited airways due to fatty deposits in the neck and tongue, which can be reduced by weight loss. As a result, the airway is less prone to collapse during sleep because of increased lung volume and better traction of the airways.

Many OSA-related symptoms, such as excessive daytime sleepiness, can be alleviated dramatically with weight loss. Moodiness, irritability, and other symptoms of neuropsychiatric illness are significantly reduced. Overall, cardiovascular health, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and quality of life are all improved. In moderately obese patients, weight loss of merely 10-15 percent can reduce the severity of OSA by 50 percent. There are still many individuals with sleep apnea who require additional therapy because weight loss can help their OSA symptoms, but it seldom results in a full cure.

Does Weight Loss Method Matter in OSA?

Many OSA sufferers are curious about the best way to lose weight for their condition given the abundance of weight loss choices available. These are some of the most effective ways to lose weight:

  • Dietary alterations
  • Increased involvement in physical exercise.
  • Medications.
  • Surgery.

Obesity is often treated with a combination of food and exercise therapies. Pharmacological or surgical procedures may be considered by obese patients who are unable or unwilling to lose weight through behavioral changes. As with several weight-loss operations, the behavioral change appears to improve OSA. Even if you don’t lose a lot of weight, regular exercise can help alleviate some of the symptoms of OSA.

Weight loss has a direct effect on the improvement of OSA, regardless of the method used. If you have a history of OSA, you should talk to your doctor about which weight-loss plan is most suited to your unique situation, overall health, and OSA severity.

Will Treating Sleep Apnea Help You Lose Weight?

An increasing number of studies have shown that patients with OSA are more likely to lose weight if they manage their condition. After two days of CPAP treatment, the levels of ghrelin (a hormone that induces hunger) in OSA patients and those without the condition were comparable.

Contrary to popular belief, long-term usage of the most effective treatment for sleep apnea, CPAP, has been linked to weight gain in some research. There is, however, a lack of understanding as to why this relationship exists. Overweight patients should not primarily rely on CPAP therapy or apnea therapies to regulate their weight due to the complexities of weight and sleep apnea treatment.

Don’t Wait To Seek Care

Preventing injury and regaining one’s quality of life is impossible without early action in the areas of sleep and weight. Sleep apnea has a great prognosis when properly treated. And it’s never too early or too late to take an active role in your weight management. For an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment choices, it is critical to see a specialist for sleep apnea.

Is It More Difficult To Lose Weight?

You may have heard that sleep apnea might make it more difficult to lose weight, but this isn’t necessarily true. You may not be able to lose weight at all if your metabolism is slowed down by the medication. This has been shown to be the case in studies. As a result, it is imperative that you first address your sleep apnea before embarking on a weight-loss plan. This is an option that an ENT can assist you with and ensure that you have the best possibility of seeing results. Sleep apnea can be treated in a variety of ways.

CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is the most frequent. A machine that may be placed near your bed is frequently used for this. Because of the stress on your body, it may be more difficult to shed pounds if you have this illness. Increases in blood pressure and glucose intolerance are examples of this.

An ENT specialist may suggest surgery if they believe it will make it simpler for you to shed pounds.

Alternate Options

Another option for treating sleep apnea should be noted. It is possible to buy a device that allows you to breathe frequently and ensures that your breathing does not become restricted. Electronic or pump-based masks like this one can be fairly pricey.

Alternatively, surgery may be an option for you. It’s important to keep in mind that this may not be an option for everyone. It all depends on the underlying cause of your sleep apnea and your personal circumstances. Whether or not this is the best option for you will be determined by your ENT.

Frequently asked questions on weight loss and sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can be caused by a variety of reasons, including obesity. Does shedding a few pounds have any effect on the severity of your sleep apnea symptoms? A few of your queries about sleep apnea and weight reduction have been answered below.

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Q: Can weight loss cure sleep apnea?

A: No, is the quick response. There is no cure for obstructive sleep apnea, but there are a number of treatment alternatives. Obstructive sleep apnea is the only type of sleep apnea that can be helped by losing weight.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and mixed sleep apnea are the three kinds of sleep apnea. The most frequent type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, accounts for 84% of all diagnoses.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when airflow to the lungs is disrupted while you sleep, causing you to cease breathing. The weight of your neck might narrow your airway and prevent you from breathing while you’re sleeping for some people. Obesity may reduce the likelihood of airway blockages and collapsibility if this is true.

Consult your doctor before embarking on a new diet or exercise regimen, especially if you have any medical conditions that could be negatively affected by losing weight.

Q: Can dieting help my sleep apnea?

A: Eating a nutritious diet is always a good idea, but it won’t improve your sleep apnea. If you’re overweight, you’ll require less pressure to keep your upper airway open, but if you’re healthy, you’ll be able to lose weight, which will lessen your neck diameter. The more energy you have from a well-balanced diet, the more weight loss potential you have.

Q: Can treating sleep apnea improve my type 2 diabetes?

A: Even while getting enough sleep is critical, it won’t help with diabetes management. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) medication should be continued since untreated sleep apnea has been associated with poorer glucose management in type 2 diabetics. Discuss your type 2 diabetes management options with your doctor.

Q: If I think my sleep apnea symptoms have been reduced by weight loss, can I skip CPAP?

A: Obesity can lower your risk of developing a variety of health problems, but it has not been shown to be effective in treating sleep apnea. Your doctor should be consulted before you discontinue CPAP therapy. There is no better treatment for obstructive sleep apnea than continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

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