Do you have loud snoring that may be related to the fact that you are overweight? Are you experiencing restless sleep, insomnia, morning headaches, daytime sleepiness or other symptoms? Do you find that your health is deteriorating because of your sleeping condition? Then you may be a sufferer of sleep apnea related to being overweight or obese.
A serious and sometimes even dangerous condition, sleep apnea is a disorder in which the body does not breathe as it should while sleeping. Rather than regular rhythms of breathing, people who have sleep apnea have a tendency to breathe in stops and starts during sleep, sometimes dozens or even hundreds of times throughout one night. Most people with sleep apnea are not aware of their breathing problems during sleep (because they are sleeping!) and many times it is discovered through roommates who complain about snoring or family members who notice strange sleeping behavior.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common form of this disorder and is often associated with people who are overweight or obese. This is because people who carry extra weight, particularly in the face and neck, can become more likely to have their airways blocked and breathing interrupted during sleep. Extra tissue in the neck can become loose and fall back due to gravity, blocking the flow of air to the lungs.
People who are particularly at risk for obstructive sleep apnea include people who:
- Are overweight
- Are male
- Have large necks (17” or more circumference in men, 16” or more circumference in women)
- Have a recessed jaw
- Have obstructions such as nasal congestion, allergies, deviated septum, or enlarged tongue
- Have problems with their thyroid (often related to enlarged tongue and/or weight issues)
- Have metabolic syndrome
- Have a family history of sleep apnea
- Have diabetes
- Have high blood pressure
Sleep apnea does more than just affect the quality of a person’s sleep (and the sleep of anyone who has to listen to loud snoring). It can also be related to a variety of other health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart failure, thyroid problems, metabolic syndrome, and accidents with heavy machinery or cars. Any of these have the power to cause severe disability and even premature death if left untreated.
Can Losing Weight Cure Sleep Apnea?
Of course, whether or not losing weight can cure a particular case of sleep apnea will depend on what is causing the sleep apnea in the first place. Some cases of sleep apnea are caused by a recessed jaw, deviated septum, clogged nasal passages due to allergies, enlarged tonsils or adenoids (often in children) or even a brain misfire that doesn’t tell the body to breathe (Central Sleep Apnea—CSA). If the cause of your sleep apnea is one of these, then weight loss may not work to cure your sleep apnea, and you may need surgical or some other type of medical intervention. Checking with your doctor or sleep specialist will give you more clarification. If you have an underlying cause for sleep apnea, your doctor may refer you on to another specialist for specialized treatment and care.
On the other hand, the majority of people in the United States who have obstructive sleep apnea may find that it is related to some sort of problem with being overweight or obese. In this case, one of the first suggestions for treatment from a medical professional may be to change habits and begin living a healthier lifestyle. In fact, new guidelines issued by the American College of Physicians (ACP) have strongly emphasized the benefits of lifestyle modification in treating obstructive sleep apnea. And weight loss is on the top of the list for living healthier to sleep healthier.
How Can Sleep Apnea Be Cured by Weight Loss?
One of the biggest issues that many people with sleep apnea face is that the idea of losing weight can seem almost impossible for a person with sleep apnea. Because people with sleep apnea don’t sleep well, they tend to gain more weight. And people who gain weight are more likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea as well as other health problems. The cycle continues on and on.
If you have sleep apnea and your doctor recommends that you lose weight in order to combat the condition, be sure to get some advice and help from your doctor about how to go about doing that. Of course, eating a healthier diet and exercising are the first steps to make toward losing weight. But people who have sleep apnea may not be able to conquer their weight with just these two lifestyle changes because of their inability to sleep well at night.
Sometimes a simple change in sleeping position can help to reduce the snoring and breathing episodes related to sleep apnea, which could also maximize a person’s ability to rest and ultimately help them lose weight. People who sleep on their backs are more likely to experience loud snoring and breathing episodes during sleep, so aiming to sleep on your side or stomach may be effective. Use of a sleep apnea pillow or even a new mattress could assist with this.
Certain people who are exceptionally overweight may need to take more serious measures in order to lose weight and cure sleep apnea. This could include the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to help get the weight loss started, and then reduce the need for it as the weight comes off and the person can breathe better on their own during sleep.
Some people with more severe cases of sleep apnea may need to talk to their doctors if they are considering lap band or other types of weight loss surgery to help with this and other health conditions. But this would be in rare cases of extreme obesity and requires a long-term plan with a team of medical professionals. Still, for some this may be the most beneficial treatment plan that includes using weight loss to cure sleep apnea.
The great news regarding sleep apnea is that this is certainly a treatable condition. Although it can be the cause of many serious and even dangerous health problems if it is left untreated, sleep apnea does not have to be the cause of unending health problems. Whether through weight loss, treatment of underlying conditions, or other types of recommendations from your doctor, getting a diagnosis and treatment plan for sleep apnea right away is critical to your overall health. Stepping onto the road toward treatment means a healthier, happier lifestyle for you and probably your entire family.