People with obesity can be at a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). As excess weight can restrict airflow, weight loss might help reduce some of the symptoms of OSA. Weight loss may improve airflow during sleep by reducing soft tissues that might collapse into the upper airway.
While weight loss is commonly recommended for people with obesity and OSA, it is not a cure for this condition. Weight loss may improve some symptoms of OSA, but many people need additional treatments or therapies as recommended by their health care provider.
How Does Extra Weight Affect Sleep Apnea?
Research has shown that extra weight can make it more difficult for a person to breathe while they sleep. Having more fat deposits around the throat and tongue can narrow the airway, put excess weight on the airway, and increase the likelihood that soft tissues will collapse.
Excess weight around the stomach can also reduce lung capacity, especially for people who sleep on their backs. People with fat deposits in their abdomens may also experience impairments in the muscles that control breathing, which can contribute to sleep disordered breathing. However, more research is needed to fully understand why this happens.
How Sleep Apnea Can Cause Weight Gain
Experts believe that weight and sleep apnea have a bidirectional relationship. This means that excess weight can contribute to symptoms of OSA, and OSA also puts individuals at a higher risk of gaining weight.
Getting enough sleep each night is important for maintaining many functions in the body, including weight regulation. However, OSA can make it difficult to get quality rest, since the airway collapses throughout the night and interrupts sleep.
Getting poor sleep has shown to affect the release of certain hormones that are responsible for regulating appetite. This could lead some people with OSA to eat more than they normally would.
Additionally, getting poor sleep can cause a person to become less active during the day due to general tiredness or lack of energy. Experts believe that this, in combination with eating more than usual, may make some people with OSA more susceptible to gaining weight.
Can You Lose Weight If You Treat Sleep Apnea?
The relationship between weight and sleep apnea is complex, and it is not entirely clear to experts whether treating sleep apnea might also aid in weight loss.
Existing research has examined how Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy affects a person’s weight. CPAP therapy is a common treatment for OSA that uses pressurized air to keep the airway open while a person sleeps.
Some studies show that CPAP treatment for OSA can decrease the release of a hormone that signals hunger, which could help with weight loss. Since research on this subject is mixed, more research is needed to clarify whether treating OSA has any effect on weight.
When to See a Doctor
Before starting any weight loss regimen, it is important to check in with your doctor to discuss what a healthy weight range looks like for you. And while weight loss may be one way to improve symptoms of OSA, losing weight is not always possible through diet and exercise alone. Each person’s genetics, environment, and lifestyle can affect their weight loss journey differently.
If you are struggling to lose weight, be assured that this is common and that there are additional treatments, such as surgery or medications, you may be able to explore with your doctor.
It is also important to discuss additional treatments for OSA with your doctor, since weight loss alone cannot cure this condition. Treating OSA early can help prevent other complications of OSA, including mental health or heart issues. If you’re unsure if you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor or start with a home test for sleep apnea. Your doctor can provide more detail on treatment options, like CPAP therapy, and recommend a plan that is right for you.