Can Sleep Apnea Sabotage Weight Loss?

Does sleep apnea cause weight gain? 

Yes. Sleep apnea affects more than your sleep. It can also sabotage your weight and weight loss efforts. 

What Is Sleep Apnea? 

Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer during the night. The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), occurs when an airway blockage prevents airflow into the lungs. This means oxygen levels drop, causing you to wake up frequently and leaving you feeling tired and unrefreshed.

How Common Is Sleep Apnea?

According to the American Medical Association, about 30 million people have a form of sleep apnea, but only 6 million are diagnosed.

What Causes OSA?

OSA may be caused by: 

  • Too much tissue in the back of the throat blocking the airway
  • A large tongue that blocks the airway
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • A deviated septum (a small piece of cartilage between the nostrils)
  • Other conditions such as nasal congestion or sinus problems
  • Obesity

How Does Obesity Contribute to the Development of Sleep Apnea? 

Obesity makes it harder to breathe because fat compresses the soft tissues around the neck, making them thicker and less elastic. Fatty deposits also make the muscles that help keep the airways open stiffer. These changes make it harder to move the jaw and tongue forward and backward to clear the airway. In addition, obesity increases the amount of fatty tissue on the walls of the upper airway, further narrowing the passageways.

A large neck circumference also contributes to obstructive sleep apnea. When the neck is too big for the body, the airway becomes narrower and the muscles that help keep it open become weaker. 

Can You Get Sleep Apnea Without Being Obese? 

You can get sleep apnea without being obese, but if you’re overweight, losing even 5 percent of your body weight can improve your symptoms and reduce your risk factors. If you don’t lose enough weight, however, you won’t see any improvement.

How Does Obstructive Sleep Apnea Make Losing Weight Difficult? 

Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can make losing weight difficult because it disrupts your normal sleep patterns. When you’re awake at night, you tend to eat more and burn fewer calories. And since you usually feel sleepy after eating, you’ll often skip meals or overeat later. 

You also won’t have the energy to work out, which means skipping the gym and being more sedentary, making weight loss more difficult. 

Also, when you’re not getting enough sleep, you don’t reach the restful stage of sleep in which your hormones are regulated, including the hunger hormone. As a result, you’ll likely crave foods high in carbohydrates and fats that can sabotage any efforts you’re making to lose weight. Leptin, the hormone that decreases your appetite, is also unregulated, so you still end up hungry. 

If you have untreated sleep apnea, you could also experience frequent nighttime awakenings, which will prevent you from sleeping well and leave you feeling tired throughout the day. That’s why many people with sleep apnea find it hard to concentrate and perform their daily tasks.

The Signs of Sleep Apnea 

In addition to snoring, other signs of sleep apnea include: 

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Frequent waking up throughout the night
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Memory lapses
  • Poor quality of life
  • Lack of energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Increased risk of heart disease

Obesity and Health

As we’ve mentioned, sleep apnea and obesity can be related, and obstructive sleep apnea has its share of serious side effects and connections to other health conditions. Obesity has side effects, too, making it even more critical to get your sleep disorder under control. 

The health effects of obesity include : 

  • Heart disease, atrial fibrillation and heart failure
  • Stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular events
  • Diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Cancer
  • Decreased immunity

How to Manage Sleep Apnea and Lose Weight

There are several ways to manage sleep apnea and lose weight. The first step is to seek medical attention. A doctor can diagnose sleep apnea by listening to your breathing while you sleep and looking at your mouth and throat during an examination. He or she may recommend a sleep study to confirm the diagnosis.

Once you know what type of sleep apnea you have, you can start treating it right away. In most cases, treatment involves using a CPAP machine (continuous positive airway pressure) for about two hours each night. This helps keep your airways open and prevents them from collapsing as you breathe. It also reduces the number of times you wake up due to choking on your own tongue or soft tissue.

Another way to treat sleep apnea is to use an oral appliance. These devices are custom made to fit over your teeth and jawbone. They help keep your airways open by moving your lower jaw forward. You wear these appliances all night, but they aren’t always effective. If you don’t see results within three months, talk to your dentist about trying another option.

In addition to these treatments, we recommend that you make lifestyle changes to improve your overall health, including exercising and eating a healthy diet to lose excess weight and improve your quality of life. Eating less sugar and processed food and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy products can help reduce your risk of developing sleep apnea.

Concerned about sleep disordered breathing? We’d love to talk.