Most research has shown that maintaining a moderate weight is linked to improved sleep apnea. In fact, the link is so strong that many doctors recommend that people with sleep apnea maintain a moderate weight. The information above comes from a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
People with sleep apnea periodically stop breathing while they sleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when something blocks the airway. About 41% of cases of obstructive sleep apnea in adults are linked to being overweight. This may be because excess soft tissue, such as tongue fat, in the airways can cause obstructions. Here’s how a person’s weight affects sleep apnea, how and when people should try to lose weight, and other treatment options.
How Weight Affects Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea involves the partial or complete collapse of the airways, reducing oxygen levels and disrupting sleep. It occurs due to two factors affecting the airways: insufficient space for airflow and low muscle tone. People with obesity may experience one or both of these problems. They may have fatty deposits in the upper airways, which narrows the airways and makes it harder to breathe. Too little muscle activity can also reduce muscle tone. Research has shown a direct link between weight and sleep apnea. An 11-year prospective cohort study, performed in 2000, showed that weight changes were linked to changes in sleep-disordered breathing.
Weight loss and sleep apnea
A lot of research has shown a link between weight and sleep apnea, but it hasn’t found why. Research from 2019 looked at the exact mechanism underlying how weight loss alleviates sleep apnea. She revealed that losing weight led to a reduction in fat in the abdomen and tongue. It also reduced the size of soft tissues in the upper airways.
However, the authors determined that decreasing tongue fat was the primary factor in reducing sleep apnea symptoms.
It is also important to note that the extent of weight loss may be proportional to changes in their sleep apnea. Despite this, research strongly recommends weight loss for all people with sleep apnea, regardless of severity or adherence to other treatments.
Other treatment options
In addition to advising maintaining a moderate weight and other lifestyle changes, such as exercising and quitting smoking when appropriate, a doctor may prescribe one of the following treatments:
– Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
The most effective sleep apnea treatment according to the trusted source is the use of CPAP. A CPAP machine provides constant air pressure to keep the airways open.
Regular nighttime use can make symptoms almost completely disappear.
– Oral appliances
These are custom-made devices that a person can wear in their mouth while sleeping to keep the upper airway open. They reposition the jaw or hold the tongue forward.
– Oral and facial muscle therapy
Exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles of the mouth and face can be helpful. In addition to strengthening all the muscles in the area, they improve the position of the tongue.
Risks and Considerations
Although doctors advise people with sleep apnea to maintain a moderate weight, it is important to do so carefully and safely. Losing weight can be difficult, and it’s a long-term process involving small, lasting lifestyle changes.
Get expert diet advice
One should contact a doctor before starting a new diet, especially if one has pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Avoid shock or overly restrictive diets
Doctors do not recommend fad diets or crash diets that severely restrict calories, or skipping meals. Instead, they advise setting a modest goal of losing 1-2 pounds per week.
Choose a nutritious diet
It may be a good idea to try a nutritious, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. Since drastically changing a person’s diet overnight isn’t realistic, experts generally recommend making small, incremental changes. This can include adding an extra serving of vegetables each day, replacing white carbs with whole grains, and making an effort to get enough protein. Over time, these small changes can yield lasting results.
Here are some common questions and answers regarding sleep apnea and weight loss.
Can maintaining a moderate weight cure my sleep apnea?
It depends. An ongoing clinical trial indicates that early weight loss can cure mild sleep apnea. Other research indicates that weight loss can often reduce the severity of a person’s sleep apnea, but it does not cure the condition by itself.
Is it harder for people with sleep apnea to lose weight?
According to an older study from 2014, sleep apnea can predispose a person to obesity. This is because reduced quality sleep is linked to higher rates of weight gain.
How much should I lose weight?
There is no single answer. Although a loss of 5-10% of body weight may be beneficial, a doctor may advise a different amount depending on the person’s initial weight and co-occurring conditions.
There is a clear link between sleep apnea and excess weight. Most doctors advise people with sleep apnea to maintain a moderate weight, and in many cases this can improve their symptoms. However, before starting a weight loss program, it is best to talk to a doctor first. Health professionals can suggest a safe and healthy weight loss program and provide personalized recommendations that take into account the person’s other health issues. Along with weight loss, doctors can recommend the most effective treatment.
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