What’s Sleep Got to Do with It?

Mar 12, 2018

obesity and sleep apnea

Did you know an estimated 18 million people in the U.S. have sleep apnea? What’s more surprising is that about 80 percent of moderate and severe cases are estimated to be undiagnosed, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

Sleep apnea can have many different causes, but in adults, the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight and obesity. In individuals who are overweight or obese, extra soft tissue around the neck, mouth and throat can obstruct the airway during sleep, causing pauses in breathing. In order to resume breathing, the body must first wake up again. This means people with sleep apnea are never able to achieve a full sleep cycle at night, leaving them feeling exhausted during the day.

But the association between sleep and obesity is a two-way street. Not only are people who are overweight or obese more likely to develop sleep apnea, poor sleep habits can contribute to weight gain and obesity. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a 1999 study by scientists at the University of Chicago found that accumulating “sleep debt” over a matter of days can impair metabolism and disrupt hormone levels. Lead researcher, Eve Van Cauter, PhD even termed sleep deprivation “the royal route to obesity.”

The body produces two hormones to regulate hunger — ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin sends the “hunger” cue to the brain, while leptin sends the “I’m full” signal. When the body is sleep deprived, ghrelin levels increase while leptin levels decrease. In addition to making you hungry, sleepiness also increases cravings for sugar and fatty foods, which only leads to weight gain.

Furthermore, a person who is overweight and suffering from sleep-disordered breathing will be less likely to find the motivation to exercise and diet, due to exhaustion and daytime sleepiness, which only exacerbates the obesity problem. Even without the presence of sleep apnea, people who sleep less (fewer than six hours per night) may have increased appetite and calorie intake. When you’re tired, you’re more likely to crave the unhealthy foods that lead to weight gain. Sometimes, we even confuse fatigue with signs of hunger and eat when we aren’t really hungry.

In some cases, the treatment of an underlying sleep problem, such as sleep apnea, may help an individual lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. In many cases, overweight and obese patients who also suffer from sleep disorders will find that treating their obesity improves their sleep disorder, helping them feel more rested, giving them the energy to exercise regularly and the willpower to make healthy food choices.

To get better sleep at night and help you maintain a healthy weight:

  • Stick to a regular sleep/wake schedule.

  • Get plenty of natural daylight.

  • Avoid stimulants such as phones, tablets and TV before bedtime.

  • Make regular exercise a priority.

  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet.

Are you getting the right amount — not too much and not too little — sleep at night? If not, it could affect your health, cause you to gain weight and may even lead to other health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, weakened immune system, high blood pressure and a number of other health risks. Adults should aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep at night. If you think you may have sleep apnea, or you struggle to feel rested after sleeping a full night, talk to your doctor.

Bariatric surgery can help patients who are overweight and suffer from a sleep disorder to lose weight and reduce or eliminate their dependence on a CPAP machine. To learn more, contact Nicholson Clinic today.

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