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How Weight Loss Affects Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects breathing during sleep. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including age, physical features, obesity, smoking, and certain health conditions. However, one of the most effective ways to improve sleep apnea is through weight loss. In this article, we will explore how weight loss can improve sleep apnea, as well as provide strategies for those with sleep apnea to lose weight and improve their overall health and well-being.

A person with sleep apnea experiences stopping and starting of breathing during sleep. It involves the partial or complete collapse of airways reducing the oxygen levels and causing disruption. There may be loud snoring, daytime sleepiness, and restlessness.

Most people with sleep apnea have obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs due to physical blockage in the upper airway.(1) As the airway close, the person stops breathing and when they breathe, they may snore, take a deep breath, or awaken completely with a gasping sensation, smothering, or choking. This would happen temporarily but repeatedly during sleep.

Sleep apnea has various causes which include:

  • Age: Obstructive sleep apnea gets more common as age advances.(2)
  • Physical features: People with a lower jaw set, small lower jaw, large tongue, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, and deviated septum are at higher chances of having sleep apnea.
  • Obesity: Greater a person’s body weight, more are the chances of suffering from sleep apnea. Research shows a direct link between weight and sleep apnea. A study done in 2000 found a direct link between weight changes and changes in disordered sleep breathing.(5)
  • Smoking: Chances of developing sleep apnea increase if a person smokes.
  • Family history: A person with a family history of obstructive sleep apnea or snoring is at a higher possibility of having sleep apnea.
  • Pregnancy: Obstructive sleep apnea is common during pregnancy. It is known as gestational obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Health Conditions: Obstructive sleep apnea occurs more in people with certain health conditions including congestive heart failure, asthma, stroke, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s disease.

A doctor can diagnose sleep apnea with a sleep study.

How Weight Loss Affects Sleep Apnea?

Treatment of sleep apnea like any other condition starts with lifestyle and behavioral modifications. This may include working towards a healthy body. Weight loss reduces the fatty deposits in the neck and tongue that contribute to restricted airflow.(3) Also, a reduction in abdominal fat increases lung volume and improves airway traction making the airway less likely to collapse during sleep.

Losing weight also significantly reduces many symptoms related to obstructive sleep apnea which include daytime sleepiness, irritability, and other neuropsychological dysfunctions. This leads to an overall improvement in cardiovascular health, high blood pressure, diabetes, and overall quality of life.

Weight loss can be helpful in reducing the severity of obstructive sleep apnea.(4)

It is important to know the amount of weight loss that may be proportional to sleep apnea. Research strongly recommends people with sleep apnea reduce weight regardless of the severity of adherence to other treatments.(6)

Weight Loss Strategies for People with Sleep Apnea

Some people despite eating healthy, limiting calorie intake, and exercising regularly are unable to lose weight.

There are a few strategies that can be helpful in losing weight whether or not a person has sleep apnea.

Sleep Longer

The shorter interval a person sleeps more the pounds are put on. Sleeping for less than 6 hours is associated with weight gain.(7)

This effect was found to be more in younger individuals.(8) It was also found that people with type 2 diabetes and excessively short and long sleepers were found to be more obese.(9)

Avoid Eating Before Bedtime

Eating 3-4 hours before bedtime should be avoided. Extra stomach juices due to late night snacks lead to regurgitation into the throat, leading to swelling and more obstructed breathing.

Regurgitation not only includes acid but also includes bile, digestive enzymes, and bacteria. This juice can go into the sinuses and ears and go down to the lungs causing inflammation.

Avoiding eating before bedtime can be a great step towards the weight loss journey.

Avoid Alcohol Close to Bedtime

Alcohol consumption should be avoided close to bedtime as it ruins sleep quality.

Many people may not consider it correct as they feel alcohol helps them fall asleep faster. Alcohol is not only a sedative but it also relaxes throat muscles. It may help fall asleep better but may definitely cause apnea and arousal, worsening the sleep quality.

Alcohol consumption has positive and negative effects on weight as well.(11) Therefore, those looking for weight loss for sleep apnea should consider cutting down on alcohol consumption.

Exercise Outdoors

Most people do not get enough sunlight exposure for healthy vitamin D levels. Vitamin D can be obtained from food sources but not enough to meet the daily requirement.

Vitamin D is not only essential for healthy bones but also has important effects on the entire body from the brain to metabolism.

Also, there is a strong association between low vitamin D levels and obesity.(10) Those looking out for loss for reducing the symptoms of sleep apnea should definitely look ahead to keep their vitamin D levels up to the mark.

There is a clear link between sleep apnea and weight gain. People with sleep apnea need to maintain a moderate weight. This can bring an improvement in symptoms. Before starting with any weight loss plan, it is always good to consider speaking with a doctor along with a nutritionist.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 17, 2023

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