Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects your breathing while you sleep. It causes your breathing to stop and restart during sleep, preventing your body from getting enough oxygen. Over time, this condition can lead to daytime fatigue, poor concentration, and other behavioral changes. There are several possible causes of sleep apnea, including certain medical conditions. Diabetes, thyroid dysfunction and genetics can all play a role. However, excess weight is a common cause of sleep apnea. This article explains the link between sleep apnea and weight loss. It also covers how weight loss and other lifestyle changes can help improve sleep apnea as well as other treatment options.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing periodically while you sleep. The amount of time you stop breathing can range from a few minutes to a few seconds. While not usually life-threatening, sleep apnea can have a significant impact on your health and well-being. In fact, studies have shown that problems such as heart attacks are more common and widespread for people who suffer from sleep apnea. You may be wondering if there are any treatment options for this condition. For example, you may have heard that weight loss can cure or help sleep apnea. Is this true? Let’s start explore the relationship between sleep apnea and weight.
The Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Obesity
The link between weight gain and sleep apnea is quite complex, and experts are still studying the connection. In the past, many people believed that obesity caused sleep apnea and that it was certainly one of the major risk factors for sleep apnea. However, studies have shown that sleep apnea may also lead to weight gain. Therefore, these two different conditions may be linked to each other in major ways.
In addition to being linked, sleep apnea and obesity share many of the same health risks. For example, both can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and other serious, potentially life-threatening conditions.
Obesity can Cause Sleep Apnea
Why might obesity lead to sleep apnea? Much of this has to do with the extra fat you have on your body. When you gain weight, your body distributes fat all over your body. Some of this fat ends up on your neck. This extra fat can make your airways collapse more easily when you sleep.
In addition, extra fat, especially around your abdomen, can affect your breathing. Belly fat can reduce your lung capacity, which can make it difficult for you to take long, steady breaths. This can also lead to the pauses in breathing that occur with sleep apnea.
Weight loss is a common component of sleep apnea treatment. The medical experts often recommend weight loss in addition to CPAP therapy or other treatment options.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms Can Make it Hard to Shed Extra Pounds
While being overweight or obese can lead to developing sleep apnea, sleep apnea can actually cause you to gain weight! This can create a vicious cycle that makes it difficult for you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
There may be several reasons to explain this cycle, many of which are attributed to poor sleep quality due to sleep apnea. This may help explain why treatment for sleep apnea may help you lose more weight when following a diet and exercise regimen.
Can Losing Weight Cure Sleep Apnea?
Treating sleep apnea, like treating many diseases, begins with lifestyle and behavior changes. For most people with OSA, this includes working toward a healthy weight. Losing weight reduces fat deposits on the neck and tongue that can cause airflow restriction. It also reduces abdominal fat, which increases lung capacity and improves airway traction, making the airway less likely to collapse during sleep.
Weight loss can also greatly reduce many of the symptoms associated with OSA, such as daytime sleepiness. Irritability and other neuropsychiatric dysfunctions are also significantly improved. There were overall improvements in cardiovascular health, hypertension, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and, especially, quality of life. In moderately obese patients, weight loss of just 10-15% can reduce the severity of OSA by 50%. Unfortunately, while weight loss can lead to meaningful improvement in OSA, it usually does not lead to a complete cure and many sleep apnea patients require additional therapies.
Other treatment options
In addition to recommending maintaining a moderate weight and other lifestyle changes such as exercise and quitting smoking (if applicable), your doctor may prescribe one of the following:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is the use of CPAP. A CPAP machine provides continuous air pressure to keep the airway open.
Consistent nightly use can result in almost complete disappearance of symptoms.
These are custom devices that a person can wear in the mouth while sleeping to keep the upper airway open. They either reposition the jaw or hold the tongue forward.
Mouth and facial muscle therapy
Exercises to strengthen the muscles of the mouth and face may be helpful. In addition to strengthening all the muscles in the area, they can also improve the position of the tongue.
If other treatments do not work, your doctor may recommend one of several surgical procedures. These include implants, removal of the adenoids or tonsils, and jaw surgery.
There is a clear link between sleep apnea and being overweight. Most doctors recommend that people who suffer from sleep apnea maintain a moderate weight, which in many cases can improve their symptoms.
However, it is best to talk to your doctor before embarking on a weight loss program.
A healthcare professional can recommend a safe, healthy weight loss program and provide individualized advice that takes into account the individual’s other health conditions. Along with weight loss, your doctor may recommend the most effective treatment, which includes the use of CPAP.