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What is the Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Weight Loss?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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Sleep apnea and weight loss might not appear to be related at first glance, but obesity is one of the most significant risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea, increasing both the condition’s likelihood and its severity. Losing weight reduces the chance of developing sleep apnea. Patients who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea can often reduce the condition’s severity with weight loss and in some cases might cure the condition entirely. Ironically, insufficient and disrupted sleep have been linked to weight gain, and people who are trying to lose weight might find it more difficult if their rest is disrupted by sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the air passage is blocked during sleep. Tissues surrounding the throat relax and sag while the patient sleeps, causing the airway to narrow and often producing loud snoring. When this tissue sag sufficiently, the air passage is closed off entirely, making breathing impossible. Often, this obstruction might prevent breathing for 10 seconds or more. The patient, still sleeping and struggling to breathe, inhales sharply, producing a loud, distinctive snort, and breathing is restored.

People who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea and weight loss will help to manage or even cure the condition. Additional weight on the neck makes tissues surrounding the airway more likely to sag. Losing weight will relieve pressure on this tissue, meaning that the airway is more likely to remain open.

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Studies also suggest that the failure to get a good night’s rest on a regular basis might make a person more likely to gain weight. Subjects getting insufficient sleep, such as people who have disrupted or irregular sleep patterns or those getting less than five hours sleep each night, have been found to be far more likely to experience weight gain. Research has shown that obesity and sleep apnea aggravate one another, making sleep apnea and weight loss opposing forces.

Not all sleep apnea cases are caused by the physical narrowing of the throat, but even in these cases, sleep apnea and weight loss will counteract one another. Central sleep apnea is a much less common condition in which breathing is improperly regulated by the brain. Although obesity is not a risk factor for this condition, the disruption of sleep still has an effect on weight gain. Central sleep apnea can also occur with obstructive sleep apnea, a condition called complex sleep apnea. Even when obesity is not a direct cause, excess weight will have a negative effect on sleep apnea, so weight loss is an effective management strategy.

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