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Sleep Apnea and Weight Loss: a Difficult Combination

Poor sleep as a result of being overweight is a problem that affects thousands of people all around the world, and there is much evidence that shows the combination of sleep apnea and weight loss is almost impossible, so the condition continues to worsen. 

Being significantly overweight or obese is one of the major contributing factors to obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which a person stops breathing for short periods throughout the night.

Many overweight people store some of their extra fat in deposits around the neck and face. This fat presses in on the face and throat, which narrows the airway and restricts breathing. As obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by obstructions of the airways, this extra fat can be the cause of the condition or it can make an existing condition much worse. 

This is why one of the first things doctors will recommend after diagnosing a patient with obstructive sleep apnea is that they try to lose weight through strict dieting and exercise as part of their overall treatment for the condition.

The treatments for obstructive sleep apnea and weight loss usually go hand in hand, but the problem is that this sleeping disorder can make it much more difficult to lose weight. Additionally, sleep apnea and weight gain are also quite closely related, as most research shows people suffering from OSA are almost twice as likely to gain weight as those who sleep normally.

Connections between Sleep Apnea and Weight Loss/Gain

sleep apnea and weight lossThe correlations between sleep apnea and weight loss/gain have been well documented for years. However, there is one problem with sleep apnea and weight loss that has only recently come to light. 

Studies have shown that all forms of sleep deprivation, whether caused by sleep apnea, another sleeping disorder, or a simple lack of quality sleep, can make it much more difficult to lose weight

In fact, sleep deprivation can actually release certain hormones that trigger the body to put on the pounds. 

So, it would seem that sleep apnea and weight gain are actually closely related in a way that makes each condition negatively affect the other.

A 2009 study performed by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden showed that having sleep apnea or another sleeping disorder which degrades the quality of sleep can strongly affect a person’s metabolism and cause changes in the level of two important hormones


Sleep deprivation seems to increase the level of the hormone called ghrelin, which triggers our appetite and feelings of hunger. It also makes the body more resistant to the effects of leptin, the hormone responsible for appetite suppression and feeling full, explaining the strong link between obesity and sleep apnea. 


Most similar studies have shown such a strong correlation between sleep apnea and weight gain that suggests that individuals who receive five or fewer hours of quality sleep per night are almost twice as likely to start gaining weight as those individuals who receive an adequate amount of sleep. This seems to be solely down to the effect that a lack of sleep has on energy levels and on the metabolism.

sleep apnea and weight lossIt also seems that people who are continually sleep deprived have other problems when trying to lose weight. 

When a person who receives adequate sleep attempts to lose weight by restricting their daily calorie intake, the result is that their body starts to burn their fat deposits to provide the remaining necessary calories. 

However, when a sleep deprived person tries to lose weight through the same method, their body will actually be much more likely to burn muscle than fat, which can be incredibly unhealthy.

Still, that same Karolinska Institute study also showed by that nearly 60 percent of patients who went on a calorie restricted diet showed an improvement in their sleep apnea symptoms. While their body may have been burning more muscle than fat at the beginning of the diet, their energy levels increased as their sleeping improved, and soon they were starting to burn fat and sleep much better.

Some people have been trying for years to lose weight with little to no effect, and now doctors are starting to see that the reason behind their inability to lose weight may have more to do with their quality of sleep than anything else. In fact, patients are more often sent to a sleep specialist when they simply cannot lose weight even when severely restricting their caloric intake.

The simple fact of the matter is that even though our metabolism slows down while we sleep, we should still be burning a decent amount of calories during the night. However, in people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, weight loss can be nearly impossible because the condition causes their metabolism to almost ground to a halt while sleeping. Therefore, for some people it may only be possible to start losing weight after starting to undergo a sleep apnea treatment such as CPAP.

Once a person starts sleeping better and eliminates their sleep deprivation, it will then be much easier for them to begin to lose weight as their metabolism will start to come back in line with that of a normal person. 

So, even though being overweight may be one of the major causes of sleep apnea, it may actually be necessary to first treat the sleep apnea before starting on a weight loss program.

sleep apnea and weight lossOverall, it seems that targeting both problems at the same time is the most effective treatment method for overweight people with sleep apnea. Losing weight will definitely improve your sleep apnea symptoms, while sleeping better will also improve your energy levels and boost your metabolism. 

While it definitely won't be easy, restricting your calorie intake and exercising more frequently should make sleeping through the night easier, and eventually reduce or even eliminate your symptoms of sleep apnea.

It could take a lot of effort and determination, but in time you could soon be much slimmer and also able to breathe freely through the night.

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