One question that has been on many people’s lips is whether or not their weight impacts Sleep Apnea or puts them at a higher risk of developing OSA. If this is a question that you’re asking yourself, know that you are not alone.
Many research studies have been conducted over the years with the sole purpose of examining the connection between Sleep Apnea and weight. As the medical community is learning more about this sleep disorder, some interesting facts have emerged when it comes to the impact of excess weight and weight loss on Sleep Apnea.
Below, we will look at the connection between weight and Sleep Apnea, whether it increases your risk level and whether CPAP therapy leads to weight loss.
The relationship between body weight and Sleep Apnea is certainly complex. And it seems in some cases, weight can play a more defining role in how severe a Sleep Apnea diagnosis can be.
According to some research studies, not only is obesity a reversible risk factor for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) but poor sleep quality caused by this sleep disorder can lead to excessive weight gain. This suggests that the connection between Sleep Apnea and weight is somewhat reciprocal.
As we know, OSA is caused by a partial or full blockage of the upper airway passages during sleep. For those individuals who are considered overweight, excess weight both in the neck and in abdominal gait can put extra pressure on the chest and upper airways reducing lung capacity and lead to or worsen the symptoms of Sleep Apnea.
Many sleep specialists have long considered weight gain as one of the core indicators of a Sleep Apnea diagnosis. As we mentioned briefly above, those who are considered overweight have excess fat in certain areas of their body which can restrict or reduce lung performance.
For example, excess weight in the neck area called pharyngeal fat blocks a person’s airway passage when the muscles are already relaxed. The more fat that is deposited in this area, the more pressure the throat and nasal passages are being put under. This is why snoring is considered an OSA symptom - as air passes through a restricted passage causing a loud noise. The higher an individual’s body mass index (BMI), the more likely they are to experience apneic events during sleep.
On the other hand, when Sleep Apnea is left untreated it can lead to increased weight gain. Untreated Sleep Apnea leads to both poor sleep quality and chronic daytime fatigue. During periods of sleep deprivation, our bodies struggle to manage two core hormones that regulate appetite: leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin (a hormone that suppresses appetite) decreases while ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates appetite) increases. This causes cravings to increase especially for foods that are rich in calories. That is why many people who suffer from poor sleep quality often reach for meals that are more convenient or are rich in sugar and fat.
However, OSA is also known for impacting an individual’s energy level which is vital for keeping a healthy body weight. Chronic daytime fatigue means there is a higher chance that those with untreated Sleep Apnea are not getting adequate exercise on a regular basis. This decrease in physical activity combined with dietary changes can lead to additional weight gain.
While there are significant health risks that Sleep Apnea poses to all individuals while left untreated, there are some which may be more worrisome to those that are experiencing weight gain or are overweight.
Excess weight can not only put pressure on your airway passages and lung functioning but also on other vital organs. For example, it is common for those who are overweight to suffer from heart problems. The same is seen in those with untreated OSA.
Sleep Apnea and cardiovascular disease have long been linked with many patients experiencing issues such as hypertension, atrial fibrillation, heart arrhythmias and coronary heart disease. These heart conditions develop due to the drop in blood oxygen saturation levels during an apneic event. Without taking proactive and preventative measures, these conditions are compounded.
The link between CPAP therapy and weight loss has been a hot topic among Sleep Apnea patients and sleep professionals for many years with many patients believing that using a CPAP machine will lead to a loss in weight. But is this fact or fiction?
The answer is it depends. In most cases, it will all come down to individual circumstances. Where weight gain is a result of the hormones leptin and ghrelin not being regulated, then continued compliance with CPAP therapy can improve sleep quality and hormone regulation. This in turn will result in an increase in energy levels and improved mood which can all contribute to weight loss. However, where obesity was one of many risk factors for OSA, other long-term lifestyle and behavioural changes are necessary.
While CPAP therapy can certainly lead to a loss of weight which reduces OSA symptoms, that is not to say that weight loss is a cure for Sleep Apnea. The management of this sleep disorder is an ongoing commitment and requires long-term therapy compliance.
When it comes to Sleep Apnea and weight, early intervention is key to reclaiming a great quality of sleep and life.
If you believe that you may be suffering from untreated Sleep Apnea or have noticed weight gain since starting CPAP therapy, talk to your physician as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
After all, treating Sleep Apnea is not just about getting CPAP therapy, it’s about taking care of your health. Making necessary lifestyle changes when it comes to our sleep hygiene, weight and health can have an enormous positive impact on sleep.
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