Obesity and Sleep Apnea: Understanding the Connection
Both obesity and sleep apnea are serious conditions which have an adverse effect on your health. But are the two conditions related and does one make the other worse?
The short answer is, yes. But if you are heavily overweight or obese, this does not always mean you will develop sleep apnea – there are other factors involved too.
If you’re looking to gain a better understanding of how obesity and sleep apnea are related, find all the information you need in this blog.
Obesity and Sleep Apnea: Understanding the Link
There are a number of variations of sleep apnea, but obstructive sleep apnea is most commonly associated with obesity.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a worrying sleep disorder that cuts off oxygen flow to the body during sleep. Breathing is interrupted for 10 seconds or more at a time, which awakens sleepers and disturbs sleep.
However, sleep apnea as a whole has many different causes- not just obesity.
The American Sleep Apnea Association highlights the fact that obesity is merely one cause of sleep apnea, others include:
- Crowded upper airways and oversized organs such as the tongue or tonsils
- High, narrow archways in the oral cavities which lead to breathing issues
- Sleep breathing disorders caused by miscommunication between the brain and respiratory system
This being said, being severely overweight or obese is still a very high-risk factor for developing breathing obstructions, such as sleep apnea.
How Obesity Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Over 50% of those that suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are severely overweight or obese. In this instance, they would display a body mass index (BMI) of 25 – 30 or above.
As mentioned, obesity is the greatest risk factor which accounts for developing obstructive sleep apnea.
If you are already overweight, your risk is of developing this sleep condition becomes greater by 14% with each unit increase of your BMI.
When compared to healthy weight adults, those with obesity are at seven times the risk of developing sleep apnea.
How Excessive Weight Affects Your Breathing
For the morbidly obese with a BMI over 40, they are also at risk of developing a hypoventilation syndrome in conjunction with sleep apnea.
This is due to the fact that excess body fat affects chest movement and compresses the lungs, which causes shallow breathing. This leads to inefficient oxygen intake throughout the day and night.
The reality is that the link between obesity and obstructive sleep apnea is a lose-lose situation.
How is this so? Obesity is linked to sleep and respiratory issues, while lack of sleep is known to cause obesity.
Yes, weight loss is known to drastically improve instances of sleep apnea. But exercise is difficult for overly fatigued people who already struggle to breathe.
This is why bariatric surgery has such a high success rate with improving and reducing symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.
Defining Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder which has severe effects on your overall health over an extended period of time.
For example, if you aren’t obese, but struggle with sleep apnea, this could lead to health issues, such as uncontrolled weight gain.
One of the first tell-tale signs you may have sleep apnea is still feeling exhausted even after you’ve had a full night’s sleep. If you snore very loudly, this is also a common symptom.
Key variations of this sleep disorder include obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome.
Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Some of the signs of obstructive and central sleep apnea are similar, which makes it tricky to properly diagnose. But some of the common symptoms of both conditions include:
- Excessively loud snoring
- Waking up and gasping for air during your sleep
- Waking up with a very dry mouth
- Issues with staying asleep throughout the night
- Waking up with a heavy head and pounding headache
- Feelings of exhaustion or daytime sleepiness
- Issues with attention span during the day
- Shortness of breath or episodes of breathlessness during sleep
If you experience three or more of the above symptoms, it may be time to visit a health practitioner for a diagnosis.
The Mechanics of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
So, how does obstructive sleep apnea work and actually affect your ability to breathe?
Basically, oxygen is cut off when the muscles in the back of your throat relax for a little too long. Day-to-day, these muscles support your soft palate, the uvula, tonsils and side walls of the throat and tongue.
When these muscles relax, your airway narrows with every breath you take. Eventually, you are able to draw in enough oxygen. Once your brain senses this lack of oxygen, it wakes you from sleep to reopen this airway and draw in more oxygen!
This is why those with sleep apnea feel perpetually exhausted as the brain works overtime to rouse you from sleep in order to breathe. As a result, your sleep pattern is severely disrupted, night after night.
Aside from obesity being a high-risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, there are a number of other factors to consider:
- A naturally large neck circumference which leads to narrower airways
- An inherited narrow throat and airway
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids which block your airway
- The male population are far more likely to suffer from sleep apnea
- Your age – the older you are, the more likely you could develop sleep apnea
- Genetics – sleep apnea is a condition that can be inherited between family members
- Lifestyle habits i.e. smoking, excessive alcohol consumption or the use of sedatives can relax the throat muscles
- Nasal issues- whether its allergy related or anatomical, if you have issues breathing through your nose, this could lead to sleep apnea
Women who are overweight or obese, as well as those experiencing menopause, are also at risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.
The Connection Between Sleep and Obesity
It’s a well-known fact that sleep and weight management are directly related. But how does this work?
Sleep is incredibly important for the human body, and in today’s day and age, it needs to be made a priority due to the stressful lives we live.
Your body is given a chance to recuperate, regenerate and rebalance itself during restful periods of sleep. This includes the regulation of your metabolism.
The truth is, the better you sleep, the easier it is to manage your weight. This because your body has had a chance to regulate your metabolism during periods of rest.
This means you’re more likely to wake up hungry, eat a substantial breakfast which kick-starts your metabolism for the day. Which, in turn, keeps it ticking over like a well-oiled machine.
Without periods of restful sleep, your body is deprived of this time to re-balance itself. This can throw your metabolism out-of-whack and leave you feeling sluggish and demotivated.
As a result, hunger may strike at odd times during the day as blood sugar levels dip. This leads to poor food choices and ultimately, weight gain.
Poor sleep and weight gain work in a vicious cycle. The worse your quality of sleep is, the more disrupted your metabolism becomes and quicker you will gain weight.
The Negative Health Effects of Obesity
Obesity is a global epidemic with increasing annual statistics as the world turns to the convenience and affordability of fast food and a sedentary lifestyle.
Obesity is also a serious medical problem.
In general, obese people have a shorter life expectancy, incorporated with a myriad of health issues which severely impact the quality of life. In fact, 90% of Type 2 diabetes cases is a result of being obese.
Along with diabetes, obese people may suffer from hypertension, heart disease, stomach ulcers, kidney infection, gallstones, and even cancer.
Treatment Options for Obesity-Related Sleep Apnea
There is no magical cure or pill that will solve the issue of sleep apnea and obesity. The only way to tackle this sleeping disorder is to treat the underlying cause- obesity.
In terms of medical procedures, there are a number of nasal airway pressure treatments which help in managing sleep apnea.
But all in all, the best way to manage and reduce the symptoms of the disorder is through weight management. A healthy diet and regular exercise will slowly help to reduce the severity of sleep apnea.
To add to this, weight loss and exercise will also help to lessen the cardio-metabolic strain on the body.
As mentioned, exercise may be difficult for very obese people to maintain. In this case, bariatric surgery is another successful treatment option for reducing weight and symptoms of sleep apnea.
Find a Peaceful Night’s Sleep with How to Stop Snoring
Yes, your snoring could be a result of obesity and sleep apnea. But there are many other causes of excessive snoring you may not know about!
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