Sleep Apnea And Weight Gain

sleep apnea and weight gainMaybe you’re overweight, feeling exhausted and are struggling to get through the day without falling asleep? Although these symptoms can be experienced when suffering from several disorders, it is very possible that sleep apnea is at the root of your problem. You may even have already been diagnosed with OSA or Obstructive Sleep Apnea and want to learn more about the connection between your condition, weight gain and snoring. Over recent years there have been many studies to note the correlation between putting on weight and suffering from sleep apnea, and while many people believe that overeating is the cause of OSA, in fact it is very possible that the reverse is true, and apnea is actually the cause of excessive weight gain.

How Weight Gain Can Cause Sleep Apnea?

It is possible for someone who weighs a healthy amount to quickly put on a lot of weight in a short time for numerous reasons. These include taking certain medications, becoming pregnant, an injury resulting in lower activity levels or a sudden change to a less healthy way of eating. Some people have a body type that includes increased weight around the neck area and this will worsen with any weight gain. As someone puts on weight, they may discover that they cannot sleep as well as they once did. They may find that they have to get up many times during the night to go to the bathroom, or they may find that they suffer from insomnia. They may also begin to snore, even if they never did before, and may wake up suffering from a headache or a sore throat. It is possible that they may also have elevated blood pressure. All of the signs and symptoms point towards sleep apnea.

How Untreated Sleep Apnea Can Lead To Obesity

There are health risks posed by a combination of obesity and sleep apnea that should never be ignored. Both conditions contribute to heart disease, hypertension, strokes, diabetes and a number of other chronic health problems, and on top of this, sleep apnea will lead to sleep deprivation which may be a factor in why it causes so many other health concerns. One of the reasons that sleep apnea leads to obesity is because of sleep deprivation. Poor and insufficient amounts of sleep over an extended period will lead to imbalances in body chemistry that cause the body to struggle in maintaining a healthy metabolism. Even a loss of 30 minutes sleep per night can affect the metabolism which is so important in balancing the essential hormones that regulate weight management – insulin, which balances blood sugar levels, and ghrelin and leptin which both regulate the appetite.


insulin and sleep apneaIf we do not get enough sleep, our body cannot use insulin properly to manage the levels of sugar in the blood. A compromised insulin level then has a domino effect on leptin, the hunger-regulating hormone, as the body produces less than necessary.


The hormone which the brain releases to inform the body that it is full is known as leptin. When the body receives fewer leptin signals, we do not know that we are full and therefore overeat. At the same time, the problem is exacerbated by higher levels of ghrelin being produced.


The hormone which the brain releases to inform us when to eat is called ghrelin, and when the levels of ghrelin produced in the body increase, we eat more than we really need to.

The Connection Between Apnea And Deprivation

A body that is deprived of sleep is under stress and therefore it stores calories as fat instead of burning them. As weight increases, sleep apnea worsens, which results in further sleep deprivation, increased cravings and an ever-lower metabolism. If sleep apnea is not treated, sleep deprivation occurs and so there is a clear correlation between weight gain and sleep apnea as the appetite runs high, energy levels are low, and sufferers eat high calorie, sugary and fatty foods to get enough energy to make it through the day’s low periods.

The REM Factor

REM (or Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the time during rest when calories are burned rapidly. As people who have untreated sleep apnea can rarely enjoy enough REM sleep, the management of weight and health becomes even more challenging.

Are There Any Solutions?

Luckily, there are some solutions that can break the cycle of sleep apnea and weight gain. These include:

Losing Weight

losing weight to stop sleep apneaOne of the best solutions for treating sleep apnea is to lose weight by following a healthy living and sensible eating plan. Long term weight loss is the best way to improve apnea, and losing between 5% and 15% of excess body weight can result in sleep apnea improving considerably, or even disappearing altogether. Of course, this process will take time, and therefore some kind of intervention will be required to control the symptoms of sleep apnea and to allow the patient to sleep well in order to enable their chances of losing weight to increase. Two thirds of patients who adhere to a calorie restricted diet find that their sleep apnea symptoms improve. A key measurement to pay attention to when losing weight is neck size. Research has shown that a man with a neck that measures less than 17 inches and a woman with a neck less than 16 inches will be less likely to suffer from sleep apnea than one with a larger measurement.  

Sleep Clinics

Attending a sleep clinic will allow a sleep specialist or physician to formally diagnose a case of sleep apnea. Once diagnosis has been made, treatment can be offered to alleviate the condition. Working with a qualified medical professional is one of the best ways to lose weight and become healthy.

CPAP Machines

cpap machineSufferers of sleep apnea may benefit from a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which is an air pump that maintains the flow of air while the patient sleeps. This allows a better quality of sleep which helps to restore the energy and focus necessary to concentrate on following a weight loss program and allows the patient to stand the best chance of losing 5% to 10% of their excess body weight. Once this has happened, they may no longer need to use a CPAP machine.


In some cases, the cause of sleep apnea is anatomical. In these circumstances, the only possible solution may be to have surgery to rectify the problem.