Can Weight Loss Alone Cure Sleep Apnea?
Is weight loss is the best way to lessen – or even cure – people's sleep apnea?
Patients have heard from their doctors that a relationship exists between weight and the severity of sleep apnea. It is said that being overweight or obese can cause or make sleep apnea worse. Patients also seem to think that simply losing weight can improve sleep apnea and its symptoms. Unfortunately, many have fallen prey to the misconception; lose weight in order to eliminate sleep apnea. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Your body needs a certain balance between sleep, diet, and exercise in order to lose weight. If any of these variables is unbalanced, it will be harder to lose weight. For example, if you're not getting enough sleep due to sleep apnea, your efforts of losing weight may not work.
This is because a lack of sleep doesn’t just make you tired. According to Phyllis C. Zee, a neurologist and the director of the sleep disorders center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, sleep deprivation negatively alters the energy balances and functions of all your body’s tissues. Specifically, it disrupts the hormones your body releases to control hunger. Levels of the satiety hormone, leptin, decrease, and levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, increase. Binge eating on bad fats and carbs, sugar, and salt becomes a biological certainty.
In fact, a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that adults who slept 80 minutes less than their norm increased their calorie intake by about 549 calories. If you think about what kinds of foods you typically overeat, you can be sure that these calories were not from healthy foods.
So, if your sleep apnea prevents you from getting enough sleep, it will be difficult eat healthy. It will also be hard to have enough energy to exercise. Something has to break the cycle. This something could possibly be CPAP therapy.
During a sleep apnea event, your body stops breathing. This then causes a sleep disturbance and basically wakes you from sleep periodically throughout the night. You’re probably not aware of these events as they’re happening, but you’re feeling the effect of them when you’re tired or lack focus all day. CPAP therapy applies positive pressure to the airway, allowing the body to get enough oxygen, which stops the sleep disturbances.
Once you’re able to get enough sleep (somewhere between 7 to 9 hours for adults 18 to 64 according to the National Sleep Foundation), your hunger hormone levels will stabilize enabling you to better adhere to a healthier diet, and increased energy levels will enable you to perform more productive workouts.
Circling back to our original question, weight loss is certainly helpful for improving sleep apnea, but it would be very difficult to actually lose weight getting enough sleep. Furthermore, losing weight does not necessarily mean that your sleep apnea will go away. As always, check with your doctor to come up with a multi-pronged approach to get your body and mind back on track.