Who hasn’t made the New Year’s Resolution to drop a few pounds? And in addition to being able to wear your favorite pair of jeans again, did you know that weight loss can reduce the symptoms associated with your sleep apnea? In fact, it may even be possible to cure your sleep apnea simply by shedding your excess weight!
The Obesity-Sleep Apnea Connection
Although you don’t have to be overweight to have sleep apnea, there is a strong connection between obesity and experiencing this chronic condition. If you are obese (body mass index [BMI] of 25 and above), you are twice as likely to have obstructive sleep apnea as someone who is not obese. Gaining weight can further complicate it. Patients with mild OSA who gain 10% of their baseline weight are at a sixfold-increased rate of progression of OSA (source).
While there is a strong connection between a high BMI and sleep apnea, a healthy weight does not make you immune from obstructive sleep apnea. A substantial proportion of patients with OSA are not obese.
Is Weight Loss the Cure for Sleep Apnea?
Studies show that losing weight could be one of the best things you could do for reducing your sleep apnea symptoms or even curing your sleep apnea completely. A study out of Sweden was able to demonstrate that by putting participants on a low-calorie diet (500 calories a day to be exact), the participants had lost on average 24 pounds, and had reduced the severity of their sleep apnea symptoms by 58%!
Checking back on these same participants a year later revealed that 48% of them didn’t need to use their CPAP machine, and 10% had effectively cured their sleep apnea. In addition, the study was able to show that the more pounds participants dropped, the more their sleep apnea symptoms improved as well.
Weight Loss Difficulties with Sleep Apnea
Losing weight is hard enough, but it can seem twice as difficult if you have sleep apnea. In fact, it is more difficult for someone with sleep apnea to shed excess weight. There is a close interaction between obsetiy, sleep deprivation and obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep deprivation brings on a wide range of responses in your body that harm your health. It can slow your metabolism making it difficult to burn calories. Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with a heightened systemic inflammatory state, and obesity has been characterized as a state of low-grade systemic inflammation.
Obstructive sleep apnea throws hormones related to obesity, weight control, satiety, and energy expenditure out of whack. The hormone leptin signals you have had enough to eat. Sleep deprivation inhibits leptin production. Ghrelin is the check to leptin; it stimulates appetitie. Reduced sleep increases the production of Ghrelin. If you aren’t sleeping, you might be eating instead.
Studies have shown improvement in sleep after weight loss. After a year of bariatric surgery there are significant increases in rapid eye movement and slow-wave sleep.
In the Meantime, Treat Your Sleep Apnea Properly
Sometimes eating more vegetables, fruit, and lean protein just isn’t enough to shift your weight downwards. If you do have sleep apnea and you’re trying to lose weight then you’ll want to consider CPAP therapy (if you aren’t already using a CPAP machine). Supplying your body with oxygen throughout the night will help you get the sleep you need and help balance the hormones involved in obtaining a healthy body weight. Plus, feeling well-rested means you’ll also have more energy to exercise.
Overall, what you need to remember is that losing weight could be an important component of treating your sleep apnea. But don’t crash diet in an effort to drop the weight.
A Note about Weight Loss and CPAP
After you have shed a few pounds, don’t quit on your CPAP. While weight and sleep apnea are closely associated with one another, weight is not the only sleep apnea factor. Another key indicator of sleep apnea is a large neck circumference. A neck circumference of 16 or more inches in a woman or 17 or more inches in a man signifies greater risk for the individual to contract sleep apnea. It is not uncommon to be fit with a large neck.
Continue to use your CPAP machine until a physician says you can stop. On the flip side, after you’ve lost some weight, you don’t need to immediately see a doctor if your therapy feels less effective.
If you have lost weight, you can adjust your own mask and headgear. All you have to do is tighten the straps to pull the equipment closer to the face. You may adjust your mask several times in a week or even a few times a night! However, if you can’t get the right mask fit, make an appointment with your doctor or sleep specialist.