Obesity Can Affect Your Sleep
A lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, and weight gain can make it harder for you to get a good night's rest. So it may not be surprising that chronic sleep loss increases your risk of weight gain and obesity.
Compared to decades ago, most Americans do not get enough sleep. In fact, as the number of hours slept at night decreased, there was a sharp increase in the rates of obesity, thus, suggesting a link between sleep and obesity. Sleep reduction can cause weight gain by:
- Increasing your appetite through dysregulation of appetite-related hormones and insulin sensitivity
- Decreasing energy expenditure
- Increasing the number of hours per day you can eat
About 20% of those who are overweight or have obesity have a type of sleep-disordered breathing, such as snoring. While we all know what snoring sounds like, snoring results when breathing is partially obstructed while sleeping. Snoring can cause fragmented sleep and reduce your oxygen levels.
Those who have obesity may have increased fat tissue accumulated around neck area, narrowing the windpipe and causing an obstruction of airflow. A larger neck circumference puts you at a higher risk for snoring. Typically, those who have a higher body weight tend to have bigger neck circumferences. But, those with normal weight can also have a large neck circumference too.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t only lead to daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Besides obesity, a lack of sleep can contribute to the development of other chronic medical conditions, such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a relatively common sleep-disordered breathing. Over 420 million individuals across the globe have moderate to severe OSA.
OSA is characterized by recurring episodes of obstruction, or blockage, of your upper airway while sleeping, resulting in the stopping and restarting of your breathing while sleeping. This obstruction reduces your airflow, potentially resulting in loud snoring. Other signs and symptoms of OSA include the following:
- Depression or irritability
- Dry mouth
- Gasping for air while sleeping
- Lack of concentration
- Memory loss
- Morning headaches
- Sexual dysfunction
More than 80% of those with OSA present with daytime sleepiness. A diagnosis of OSA is based on your symptoms and the results of a sleep study. A sleep study helps your healthcare provider determine your apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). The AHI looks at the number of times you stop breathing (apnea) and periods of decreased airflow lasting longer than 10 seconds (hypopneas). During hypopneas, you may awaken briefly (even if you have no memory of it) or have reduced oxygen flow.
Being overweight or having obesity is one of the strongest risk factors associated with OSA. But, you can also have OSA and be at a normal weight. Having a high body weight may change the structures of the soft tissues in your nose and throat area, thus obstructing the airway. These changes may be caused by:
- Increased neck circumference due to fat accumulation
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
- Transient fluid accumulation in your neck when lying down
- Nasal obstruction
There are many treatment options available for OSA. However, the most common one recommended is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine uses air pressure to help keep your airways open while sleeping. With consistent use, CPAP improves sleep parameters and daytime and nighttime symptoms such as snoring.
Over time, untreated OSA can increase your risk of other medical problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, or metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes.
Can Weight Loss Improve Snoring?
Weight loss may improve snoring, however the evidence is conflicting.
A 2013 study compared snoring rates at different body mass indexes (BMI): normal, overweight and obesity. At the start of the study, there was no difference in snoring habits between those classified as overweight or having obesity. As participants lost weight, the greatest impact of snoring was when a BMI of less than 25 was achieved.
This same study also showed that the neck circumference of snorers was higher than those of non-snorers, regardless of BMI. This may help explain why individuals with a normal BMI snore.
In a 2021 study, those with OSA and type 2 diabetes underwent intensive lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) or diabetes education for weight management. Over 10 years, those receiving lifestyle interventions were more likely to achieve OSA remission compared to those who didn’t. The higher remission rate in the lifestyle modification group may be associated with a change in body weight and the severity of OSA. Those with mild to moderate OSA were more likely to achieve remission.
A recent 2022 study showed that sleeping at an incline reduced snoring. When compared to lying flat, this position helps prevent the upper airway from collapsing, thus improving snoring and sleep quality. Although small, this study illustrates that there are other ways beside weight loss to manage snoring.
Since many factors contribute to sleep-disordered breathing, losing weight may not “cure” your snoring but it could help. In addition, weight reduction has many benefits to your overall health.
The link between obesity and sleep is complicated. Chronic sleep loss can lead to obesity, and obesity can affect how much sleep you get. Both can contribute to chronic medical conditions such as depression and heart disease.
If you are a snorer (no judgment here!) and want to see if losing weight will help, try these tips:
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains
- Get regular exercise
- Improve your sleep hygiene and environment
- Manage your stress
Last but not least, weight loss is hard. But with the right healthcare professionals on your team, your weight loss journey may go more smoothly.
While there is no magic cure for snoring, every small step towards a healthier lifestyle can bring significant benefits to your health.