Can Weight Loss Cure Sleep Apnea? The Facts And Tips
Sleep apnea can block the airway during rest in several ways. Excess weight is the most frequent contributing factor, so if your body mass is high, weight loss can cure sleep apnea. However, it’s not guaranteed as the disorder is sometimes caused by dental or brain activity problems.
Those with a higher body mass are much more likely to develop sleep apnea because the extra weight around the face and neck can block the airway.
Losing weight is the overall most effective method of improving symptoms.
When combined with a CPAP machine, diet and exercise offer the best path forward.
Did you know?
Weight loss and CPAP machines are some of the most common treatments for sleep apnea, but if the cause is related to the shape of the pallet, surgery is another option.
Is sleep apnea keeping you up at night? Looking for lifestyle solutions that could improve the quality of your sleep?
Weight loss can cure sleep apnea in many cases, and depending on your unique situation, it could be your best shot at making breathing easy at night. However, there are several causes of sleep apnea, not all of which are related to weight.
Getting to the bottom of what’s causing your blocked airway is step one. From there, you can start to consider weight loss as a solution.
How Are Weight And Sleep Apnea Connected?
The most common form of sleep apnea by far is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). If you have this sleep disorder, the soft tissues in your pallet relax while laying down during sleep, blocking the airway.
Weight and obstructive sleep apnea are connected because the more body mass you’re carrying around the neck, the more there is for gravity to bring down and block the airway. In fact, a 10% increase in body mass has been shown to make the onset of OSA six times more likely.
On top of that, there’s a vicious circle at play as sleep apnea causes heart problems and those heart problems are made worse by weight gain.
Sleep apnea can also work via mechanisms unrelated to weight such as the shape of the gums or problems with brain activity. However, high body mass is the greatest risk factor for OSA.
Weight Loss And Sleep Apnea
There’s a long history of research into the impacts of weight loss on sleep apnea, and the results should be encouraging for anyone sleeping with the disorder.
One study from 1984 published in Chest, followed a 52-year-old man over three years. During this time, his weight varied from 111 kg (244.7 lbs) to 85 kg (187.4 lbs). The number of apneas per hour also dropped from 59.6 to 3.1 throughout that range – an apnea is the term used to describe an episode where the patient stops breathing.
That’s just one study following one patient, but in 2009, a review of twelve studies published in the American Journal of Medicine found similar results. From those studies, there were 324 patients. The average weight dropped by 17.9 kg/meter squared (39.5 lbs) and the total apneas per hour went from 54.7 to 15.8.
Because of this evidence, doctors often recommend weight loss to patients struggling with sleep apnea.
Can Sleep Apnea Be Cured With Exercise?
Exercise and weight loss can relieve many of the symptoms of sleep apnea, and it may even cure it completely. However, snoring and breathing problems may continue even after dropping down to a lower body mass because of the shape of the airway or nasal passage.
Studies show that use of a CPAP machine alongside an exercise regimen is the best way to tackle sleep apnea.
Can Dieting Help My Sleep Apnea?
Dieting can help with sleep apnea the same way that weight loss can. In fact, dieting may be even better if the eating plan is sustainable.
One 2012 study published in Obesity done on postmenopausal women found that diet alone led to an 8.5% weight loss compared to 2.4% in the exercise exclusive group. But the best option was the group that combined the two for a 10.8% reduction.
As an added bonus, improving your diet can reduce the chances of sleep apnea causing a heart attack down the line.
The key is to turn it into a habit rather than something temporary, because if you find it hard to continue, the weight – and the sleep apnea – may return.
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Lifestyle Changes To Improve Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can rear its ugly head for many reasons, and one of those is a routine that lends itself to weight gain. Sedentary lifestyles that involve sitting at desks, lack of exercise during time away from work, and poor nutrition can all make the condition worse.
But the good news is that turning the ship around can be simple, if not always easy. To give yourself the best shot of breaking free of sleep apnea symptoms, try the following:
- Making time for exercise. You don’t need to become an Olympian right away. Start with small steps like daily walks around the block and build from there.
- Meal prepping so that making healthy food choices is easier.
- Avoiding eating before bed.
- Adjusting your sleep environment. Our body pillow can help keep you in a sleep apnea-relieving side position and our knitted weighted blankets can relieve stress related to the condition.
- Consider sleeping in a slightly elevated position as sleeping upright can also ease symptoms. Just ensure the angle isn't too steep.
Of course, all of this should be in addition to medical treatments for sleep apnea advised by your doctor.
Will Sleep Apnea Treatment Help With Weight Loss?
One of the most common sleep apnea treatments is the use of a CPAP machine, and when combined with healthy lifestyle choices, it can lead to weight loss.
If the sleep apnea therapy is successful, it should lead to higher quality sleep. And better sleep means better overall health, including factors like body mass.
Can Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Gain?
On the other hand, if sleep apnea goes untreated, it can be a contributing factor in weight gain. For the same reasons that quality sleep improves your overall health, losing out on rest with apnea interruptions in the night can make it harder to lose weight.
One of the reasons for this has to do with our appetite. When we’re low on sleep, we tend to make less healthy food choices, partly because levels of the hormone ghrelin increase when we’re tired, making us crave more food.
Lack of sleep can also feed into a vicious cycle of inactivity since we tend to want more time in front of the TV when we’re exhausted. But breaking out of that habit can lead to a better, more positive cycle, and may eventually improve your sleep apnea symptoms.
Still have questions? Have a look at the answers to some common questions around the topic of sleep apnea.
Can Sleep Apnea Be Cured Naturally?
Completely curing sleep apnea naturally can be difficult, but the number of nightly episodes can be greatly reduced through diet and exercise. As body mass index numbers drop, research shows that apneas do too.
However, airway structure and brain activity is another factor that contributes to sleep apnea, and these may require more direct intervention. Dental surgery is one common treatment, as are CPAP machines that help to open up the airway.
Will Sleep Apnea Go Away If I Lose Weight?
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, losing weight is one of the best ways to make it go away for good. Losing fat tissue around the throat and neck area means less pressure on the airway when lying down for sleep. In turn, this makes it much less likely that breathing stops.
However, the shape of the airway is another factor, as is brainwave activity in the case of central sleep apnea.
Should I Have Weight Loss Surgery?
In general, patients need to meet certain criteria for doctors to advise weight loss surgery. This can include things like:
- A high body mass index
- Heart problems
- High blood pressure
- Severe sleep apnea
In the case of sleep apnea, studies have shown that sleep apnea patients generally show improvement after bariatric surgery. If you think that it may be a good option for you, consult with a physician to ensure that it’s the right option and to get the process started.
Can Maintaining A Moderate Weight Cure My Sleep Apnea?
If you can maintain a moderate weight, you have a much better chance of curing sleep apnea. However, sleep apnea doesn’t technically have a cure in the usual sense. It’s possible to limit the number of episodes each night, but many people will continue to live with some form of the condition throughout their lives.
That shouldn’t discourage anyone from sticking to a healthy routine and using their CPAP machine, though. If you need a good reason, do it because sleep apnea can cause heart problems, and a healthy lifestyle can do the opposite.
Is It Harder For People With Sleep Apnea To Lose Weight?
It can feel harder for people with sleep apnea to lose weight because they often get trapped in a toxic cycle of feeling exhausted from poor sleep and then avoiding exercise.
Hormones like ghrelin are also elevated when tired, making us more likely to reach for the cookie jar instead of a nice plate of veggies. On top of that, sleep insufficiency can also negatively impact metabolism.
There’s a silver lining though. Sleep apnea treatments like sleep apnea machines can improve your sleep, wiping out all of those negative effects and allowing you to get back to your healthiest self.
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Weight loss is often the best chance for sleep apnea patients to improve their condition. Shedding the extra weight around the face and neck frees up the airway, allowing oxygen to flow more freely and limiting the chances of blockages in the night.