The Relationship Between Obesity & Obstructive Sleep Apnea
by Dr. Scott Bolding | Aug. 3, 2021
Table of Contents
01. The Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Obesity
02. Obesity Can Cause Sleep Apnea
03. Treating Sleep Apnea with Weight Loss
04. Learn More About Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Understanding obstructive sleep apnea is crucial to treating it effectively. Sleep apnea is not something to ignore. The daytime sleepiness caused by OSA makes it hard for you to pay attention during the day, which can lead to accidents at work and on the road. Sleep apnea can also affect your overall health. The cardiovascular, metabolic, and pulmonary systems are all at greater risk from sleep apnea because of the stress that it puts on these systems. Patients with OSA are also at risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life.
Obesity and sleep apnea have an interesting relationship. Obesity is often one of the main causes of obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, 60-90% of adults with sleep apnea are also obese. A weight gain of 10% increases the risk of developing sleep apnea six times above the normal amount. However, sleep apnea can also cause weight gain because it can cause changes in your appetite and energy levels.
Excess weight is not the only piece of the sleep apnea puzzle. But it is a common risk factor. Even though it is not a complete cure, losing weight can play a huge role in controlling the symptoms of sleep apnea. Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between obesity and OSA.
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Obesity Can Cause Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea happens when your breathing is interrupted while you sleep due to a blocked airway. When your breathing stops, your body naturally wakes up to reopen the airway. These episodes often happen multiple times during the night.
Excess weight is one of the leading causes of a blocked airway. Excess weight creates fat deposits, called pharyngeal fat, on your neck. These fat deposits block the upper airway while you sleep. Extra fat around your girth can also push against your chest which decreases your lung capacity. Reduced lung capacity affects airflow which causes your upper airway to collapse. When you lay down to sleep the airway becomes even more obstructed.
Sleep Apnea Can Also Cause Obesity
Obesity can also be caused by sleep apnea. In fact, patients with OSA are at a greater risk of gaining weight. Of course, sleep deprivation often leads to a lack of energy. If you aren’t sleeping well at night it makes it harder to want to get up and exercise.
However, there is more to the relationship between sleep apnea and obesity. Sleep deprivation is “associated with decreased leptin (an appetite-suppressing hormone) and increased ghrelin (an appetite-stimulating hormone).” This hormone imbalance can increase your cravings for calorie dense foods. And because of decreased energy caused by lack of sleep it’s harder for you to work those calories off.
Treating Sleep Apnea with Weight Loss
Weight loss can still play a huge role in controlling sleep apnea. Even losing a small amount of weight can reduce the severity of your OSA. Losing weight reduces the fat deposits on your neck, which naturally opens up your airway. Weight loss also decreases the pressure on your chest. Decreasing pressure on the chest increases your lung capacity. This again, makes it easier for your upper airway to stay open while you sleep.
The process of losing weight can be difficult. But with help from your doctor, you can figure out exactly what you need to do. Basic lifestyle changes, like working out and adjusting your diet, can be the first steps toward a healthy weight and better sleep.
It’s important to note, however, that weight loss alone will not cure sleep apnea. There are often several different factors at work at the same time. You need to combine weight loss with other treatments. A thorough diagnosis from a sleep apnea specialist will help you understand everything that is going on with your airway. Depending on the diagnosis your doctor may suggest the following treatment options along with weight loss:
Treating sleep apnea at the root will also help you lose weight. As we discussed above, sleep apnea can have an affect on your appetite and energy levels. This can make it hard to stay motivated when you’re trying to lose weight. By addressing sleep apnea at the root with either a CPAP, surgery, or an oral appliance you will be able to get the sleep you need to keep losing weight.
Learn More About Obstructive Sleep Apnea
There’s no doubt that obesity and sleep apnea are often related to each other. Excess weight can cause and be caused by OSA. And losing weight is an important part of treating obstructive sleep apnea.
However, obesity is only one part of the sleep apnea puzzle. Sleep apnea is a complex disorder that requires a thorough examination in order to diagnose and treat it effectively. If you would like to learn more, check out our other sleep apnea resources.