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Link between Sleep Apnea and Weight

Sleep apnea is a common chronic breathing disorder in which one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths occur during sleep. The most common form of the disorder is obstructive sleep apnea and studies have shown that there is a link between this type of sleep apnea and a person’s weight.

Sleep apnea can affect anybody, men, women, children or the elderly. Typically someone who is suffering from the disorder is unaware of it, although they will show symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of energy and poor concentration. Since it does not show up in any blood tests and is unlikely a general practice doctor will catch it on a routine visit, and thus sleep apnea can go undiagnosed for a long time. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, diabetes, and obesity.

Studies have shown that there is a certain link between sleep apnea and a person’s weight. In a 20 year review of obesity-associated diseases an estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, not including children. The reason why weight and obesity are major factors in contributing to sleep apnea is because of “compromised respiratory function,” according to Margaret Moline, PhD, and Lauren Broch, PhD, sleep specialists at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. As a person gains weight in the neck and torso area, it becomes more difficult to breathe. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2003 Sleep in America poll shows that 77% of older adults who are obese report some kind of sleep problem. Additionally, experts say that as little as a 10% decrease in weight can significantly improve the severity of sleep apnea.

This link between sleep apnea and weight is a vicious circle where each condition aggravates the other. A study conducted by scientists at the University of Chicago found that building up a sleep dept over a few days can impair metabolic function and disrupt hormone levels. This drop in metabolism will increase the chances of gaining weight. Since those who suffer from sleep apnea are often tired and lethargic due to lack of sleep, they are often unmotivated to diet or exercise. When you factor in a lower metabolic rate weight gain increases rapidly, which in turn aggravates the sleep disorder.

Currently the most common form of treatment for sleep apnea is in the form of nasal continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP system. This system consists of a CPAP machine that blows air at a pressure high enough to keep the airway open during sleep and a CPAP mask The mask can cover either the nose area or the entire face, and is used to keep the air flowing into the nose and mouth. Many of the machines will record significant therapy tracking data so that doctor and patient can develop a plan to help reduce the severity of the sleep apnea While using the mask will ensure better sleep at night, it should be used as a remedy in conjunction with diet, exercise, and a weight-loss program to guarantee a long-term solution.


Article, “What is Sleep Apnea?”; August 1, 2010; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Article, “Obesity and Sleep”;SleepFoundation.Org