Losing weight is often touted as a miracle cure for all ills, and this can be challenging. For people who struggle with their weight for reasons of genetics or a comorbid condition, it can be hard to hear “just lose weight!” as a treatment option. But in this case, what everyone says is true: the severity of sleep apnea and weight loss is directly related. Losing weight can help with symptoms. Here’s what you should know.

Can losing weight cure sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea, affecting an estimated 22 million people in the U.S. As a sleeper’s throat muscles relax back and down, the airway becomes blocked, eventually startling the sleeper awake with a gasping intake of breath. This can occur in the most severe cases up to 30 times an hour, all night long, and obesity is a primary risk factor.

Why?

People who carry extra weight often have extra weight all over their body, include fatty deposits in the tissues of the throat. Additionally, those with larger neck sizes may have an increased risk of sleep apnea. Genetics play a role, too.

But can losing weight cure sleep apnea?

Maybe not for everyone, but as sleep apnea and weight gain are connected, chances are good that weight loss is an excellent first-line treatment for even the most severe case of sleep apnea.

The weight loss and sleep connection

Seems hard to believe, but sleep is an important tool in weight management. Getting less of it (or poor quality sleep) leads to weight gain that can trigger or intensify sleep apnea. This is because, as we sleep, our bodies produce hormones that play a part in appetite regulation. Two hormones produced during sleep – leptin and ghrelin – tell you when you are full and stimulate appetite respectively. When sleep is disrupted (like it is with sleep apnea), these hormones are also disrupted. The production of leptin slows, and ghrelin kicks up a notch. During the next day you are hungrier and less likely to feel full, resulting in weight gain.

In addition to this, your body also struggles to process sugars into anything but fat, and systemic inflammation increases when sleep is poor.

Losing weight is paradoxically harder with sleep apnea but can also result in fewer sleep apnea symptoms and can, in some cases, actually cure your sleep apnea. When weight loss occurs, the two hormones in charge of appetite begin to return to normal, and your body takes control of your blood sugar and the way it processes food. Not only does this lead to an increase in overall health, but it can also break the sleep apnea and weight gain cycle.

How much weight loss to stop sleep apnea?

While there is no guarantee that sleep apnea will be cured by weight loss, a study in 2009 found that aggressive treatment of sleep apnea and weight gain actually cured sleep apnea in 88% of patients in the study with mild sleep apnea who lost 33 pounds or more. Even modest weight loss had an effect. In fact: 62% of patients who lost between 11 and 33 pounds saw their sleep apnea disappear, and 38% of patients who lost even a single pound saw no more symptoms.

The truth is that there is no magic number for weight loss to reduce or eliminate your sleep apnea symptoms. The best choice is to focus on healthy eating, increased physical activity, and steady and sustainable weight loss.

Thinking in terms of body-mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage instead of focusing on the scale is also a good plan, especially if your weight loss involves muscle-building. This can be very helpful for people who have tried to lose weight in the past and have struggled with the numbers on a scale, even as they feel more fit and healthy.

The amount of weight loss to stop sleep apnea varies from person to person, but any weight loss is a step towards better overall health and well-being.

How to lose weight with sleep apnea

The first step to losing weight with sleep apnea is to make sure you have a doctor who is in your corner. There is a tremendous stigma attached to being overweight or obese, and that does not do anything to promote resolution of sleep apnea and weight loss. Losing weight can be hard. Find a doctor who understands this, acting as your coach through your weight loss journey.

Once you have a good support system in place, here are other simple ways to lose weight with sleep apnea.

Keep changes small

It’s well-proven in research: drastic diets don’t work and are unsustainable.

Make small changes (e.g., drink more water, start a regular exercise plan, eliminate soda, or add in healthier whole foods) to jumpstart your weight loss.

Focus on calories in and calories out

It’s a very simple formula: burn more calories than you take in. For many people who have struggled to lose weight on strict diets, this one simple change may be key.

You can either decrease the number of calories you eat, or increase the number of calories you burn. Ideally, the calories go down as the activity levels increase, but you have to start somewhere!

Individualize your plan

What works for your friend may not work for you. Sure, your dramatic calorie restriction may work in the short-term, but the best weight loss plan is one that works for the long haul.

The most successful weight loss stories are individualized, so keep trying until you find a strategy that’s good for you.

Use your CPAP machine as directed

If your obstructive sleep apnea is severe and requires a CPAP machine, there is good news there: the average weight loss with CPAP machine in a recent study was almost six pounds higher than those patients who did not use one. The study included dietary changes and exercise as well, but the CPAP machine supported weight loss as it treated sleep apnea.

If you cannot use your CPAP machine for any reason, there are CPAP alternatives, including dental devices.

It is important to note that obesity is just one risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. Other factors such as a high-arched palate or other anatomical issues, can be identified by your Phoenix area sleep apnea dentist.

If you are looking for a comprehensive treatment plan for sleep apnea and weight loss, get in touch with AZ Dentist today. We know it’s hard, and we can help.