For patients with obstructive sleep apnea, it is hard enough to wake up every morning feeling tired and unrested. The daytime fatigue and fogginess that follow are plenty to deal with, but some sleepers may find the needle on their bathroom scale beginning to creep up as well. There is actually a strong connection between sleep apnea and weight gain, but the news is not all bad. There is also a strong connection between treating sleep apnea and weight loss. Here’s what you need to know.
The basics of weight loss during sleep
One of the biggest connections between sleep apnea and weight loss lies within your hormones. Leptin, produced by fat tissues in the body, send signals to the brain when the body has had enough food to eat. When sleep apnea is present, your body may suppress the production of leptin, bringing about the potential for overeating. Leptin also regulates breathing control, and the absence of or decrease in this hormone may be a prime reason why breathing patterns are abnormal in patients with obesity and sleep apnea.
The ghrelin hormone comes into play as well. This hormone stimulates the appetite and increases during the night in obese patients. Leptin and ghrelin are a one-two punch when it comes to potential weight gain. Unfortunately, these hormones that control your rate of weight loss and weight gain can actually be changed by sleep apnea.
There are also different metabolic factors associated with sleep apnea and weight loss. Glucose intolerance and insulin resistance are two metabolic risk factors for the development of diabetes and cardiovascular issues, two conditions that are also present in higher numbers among those with sleep apnea. Systemic inflammation is also an issue that is present in those who experience shorter sleep cycles due to sleep apnea. This inflammation increases and decreases as sleepers get less or more rest.
Increased inflammation and the body’s increased inability to process sugar combined with a fluctuation in important appetite-regulating hormones all contribute to weight loss and gain, even while you sleep.
Can sleep apnea cause weight gain?
The short answer? Yes. Sleep apnea and weight gain are linked inextricably. That obesity is a risk factor for sleep apnea is well-studied. Just as the incidence of sleep apnea is double in men to begin with, the risk of overweight men developing sleep apnea is five times that of overweight women.
Patients of any gender who gain 10% or more of their base weight have a six fold-increased risk of already-present mild sleep apnea progressing to more severe forms. One potential reason for this is that fat deposits in the tissues around airways begin to narrow an already-small passage. Fat deposits around the thorax also present challenges for breathing.
But does sleep apnea cause or contribute to obesity? Again, the short answer is yes.
Given what we know about leptin and ghrelin and the importance of a full night’s rest to regulate these hormones, it stands to reason that a poor, interrupted night of sleep contributes to obesity. Leptin levels due to sleep apnea are worse in obese patients than in patients whose sleep apnea has other root causes. Adiponectin is another naturally-occurring substance in the body that improves glucose metabolism but is very low in obese patients and also in patients with sleep apnea.
Can you get rid of sleep apnea by losing weight?
Weight loss is not the only treatment for sleep apnea. However, it can provide powerful health benefits that include not only improved sleep but also better general overall health.
Remember, there is an increased risk of sleep apnea with a 10% weight gain. But, the same percentage of weight loss can also result in a 20% improvement in sleep apnea symptoms. In one study, extremely obese patients who received bariatric banding saw significant improvement in rapid-eye movement (REM) and slow-wave sleep, two significant indicators of