Will Treating Sleep Apnea Help Me Lose Weight?

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Published on December 11, 2019
man sleeping with mouth open

Sleep apnea is one of the most common, but a serious sleeping disorder which affects the person’s breathing during sleep. If your breathing frequently starts and stops while sleeping, you are probably suffering from sleep apnea. You may also experience restless sleep, loud snoring, and daytime sleepiness.

There may be various reasons why you suddenly stop and start breathing. Probably, your airway is blocked, or there is a problem in your brain that inhibits it to signal properly. The first type is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), while the second type is called central sleep apnea (CSA).

Throughout sleep, you will most likely stop breathing unconsciously. But from the moment the airway is unblocked, or the breathing signal is perceived, you will snore, breathe deeply, or be awakened with a sensation of smothering, gasping, or choking.

If you take sleep apnea for granted, you will most likely suffer from serious health issues such as weight gain, heart disease, or even depression. You will also feel a little drowsy, which will lead to an increased risk of accidents while working or driving (1).

Sleep Apnea and Body Weight

Even if you have a proper diet and regular exercise, you will still struggle from weight gain, especially if you don’t get enough sleep. There are a number of studies that show the connection between sleeping disorders and weight gain. If you lack sleep, you will gain weight, and it will lead to a serious health issue called sleep apnea. This will even make your situation worse as you will be more deprived of sleeping and gain more weight (2).

Indeed, obesity has already become a major health problem for decades throughout the world. Sleep problems, on the other hand, seemed to be equally prevalent with obesity. There is no wonder why the associations of sleep and weight are examined in various studies.

A study has shown that people who have sleeping disorders are most likely to struggle with weight gain compared to those who have sufficient hours of sleep, specifically those who got the suggested 8 hours of sleep at night. It was recommended not to compromise sleep problems in order to prevent weight problems (3).

Another study has shown that men who were coerced to sleep for only 5 hours per night experienced weight gain, specifically two pounds in a week. Aside from gaining weight due to lack of sleep, it also leads them to consume more food compared to their usual food intake (4).  

Studies found out that our diet can actually affect our sleeping habits. Probably, that is the reason why if you have a healthy diet, you get a night of better sleep and otherwise. It means that a poor diet may result in poor sleep.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep apnea affects around 3 to 7 percent of people in the US (5). Usually, this kind of sleeping disorder affects elder people. Factors such as nasal congestion, small airways, and the use of cigarettes or alcohol raise the probability of suffering from sleep apnea. And one of the greatest risk factors of this sleeping disorder is excessive weight. In fact, it was found out that almost half of those who have sleep apnea are also overweight.

How Weight Gain Leads to Sleep Apnea

Indeed, people who have sleep apnea are not necessarily overweight. But, if you put on extra pounds, the chance of having a sleeping disorder is high. The reason for this is that the fats are accumulated in your neck area, which obstructs your breathing, and that results in sleep apnea.

It is for that reason that doctors usually prescribe patients with sleep apnea to lose weight in order to treat the same. If you lose about 10 percent of your body weight, your condition will certainly improve or even get rid of the disorder entirely.

How Sleep Apnea Can Cause Weight Gain

On the other hand, people who are suffering from sleep apnea gain many weight. In fact, those who have severe sleep apnea gain more weight compared to those with less severe sleep apnea. If the quality of your sleep is poor, the hormones affecting your appetite are affected. Since sleep apnea results in daytime sleepiness, your physical activities will most likely decrease. If this happens, then you will find it hard to lose weight.

That is the reason why if you are currently overweight or worse obese and if you are suffering from sleep problems, consult your doctor. It is always best to check whether or not you are in normal condition. Your doctor is the best person who can refer you to a specialist.

A sleep specialist, on the other hand, may prescribe you to undergo therapy. For instance, you will be advised to wear a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is a mass-like device that can help prevent snoring. This can be worn while you sleep as it utilizes air pressure to allow your airways to open.

Remember to treat sleep apnea as soon as possible as it can also lead to various health issues such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems. It is crucial to check with your physician, so you will understand how your condition will be treated.

Other Reasons for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is not only suffered by someone who is overweight. There are actually different reasons why people might develop this kind of sleeping disorder. For instance, some people are born with crowded upper airways because their organs like the tonsils and the tongue are oversized. Others may have narrow and high arches in their oral cavities, which makes them hard to breathe while sleeping. 

Others may be suffering from health issues, which lead them to sleep apnea. Probably, the reason for this is because there is a miscommunication between the respiratory system and the brain. But then, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, overweight people are high in risk to develop obstructive sleep apnea (6).

On the one hand, if you are carrying extra weight, then you may encounter some breathing difficulties while you sleep. On the other hand, if such a disorder is not treated, although not yet obese, you will begin experiencing weight gain as a result.

Obesity and Chronic Health Issues

Today, around 93 million people in the US are obese, while 33 percent are overweight. Indeed, many are struggling with this kind of stigma related to body image and size. But, even if they know how this can lead to various medical conditions, they find it hard to face such a concern for fear of recrimination and judgment. On the other hand, there are still many people who weigh beyond normal that are still unaware of the detrimental effects of being overweight or obese on their entire well-being

If you are overweight, you are at a high risk of a wide range of comorbidity. Most probably, excessive weight can lead to stroke, heart disease, and obesity. Other issues include inflammatory disorders, hypertension, mobility challenges, joint pain, and of course, sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea, Obesity, and Children

Sleep apnea affects many children. Do you know that one out of three children is affected by obesity? It is already prevalent for children nowadays. And being obese during childhood has a great probability that they will carry the same into adulthood. 

In the first place, sleep apnea is not a new problem suffered by children due to the fact that obesity is also epidemic. It was found out that almost 4 percent of children between ages 2 to 8 years old are suffering from sleep apnea. 

Some of these children are already overweight, while others are of normal weight but become overweight, much worse obese over time. If this remains untreated, it can affect the child’s developing brain and body, which will eventually impact his or her metabolism due to systemic stress. 

It will result in daytime fatigue, behavioral problems, unhealthy food cravings, low physical energy, and other developmental issues that might lead to unhealthy weight gain. 

Some studies show that children who have attention problems are actually suffering from sleep apnea. It was explained that a lack of sleep might result in various behavior and learning problems in children. Perhaps, the main cause of lack of sleep or poor sleep is sleep apnea. Other problems related to sleep apnea include sleepwalking, bedwetting, hormone imbalances, and even retarded growth. 

Some researchers also explain the impact of sleep apnea on the brain function of growing children, such as limitations to planning, organization, self-monitoring, cognitive flexibility, and self-management. 

How Treating Sleep Apnea Helps in Losing Weight

A study has shown that losing weight is one of the most effective ways to decrease the symptoms of sleep apnea. Indeed, losing weight is not considered as a fancy high-tech treatment or an innovative miracle pill to cure OSA. 

According to this study, surgery does not last. Even CPAP machines are only a temporary treatment depending on the adherence of the patient. Aside from being expensive, these kinds of treatments may have disappointing outcomes. Moreover, OSA is treated only when such disorder progressed from a moderate to severe state (7)

But then, CPAP is one of the most common treatments for those who have sleep apnea. This machine includes either a mask or some device which is placed in your nose or mouth. CPAP is used not only for those who have sleeping-breathing disorders but also for those infants who have underdeveloped lungs (8).

It was found out that obese adults with sleep apnea lose weight if they have a low-calorie diet, and if they use a CPAP machine. According to a new study, CPAP can actually result in losing weight. People who have sleep apnea temporarily stop breathing, sometimes less than or more than an hour, because of the relaxing of the throat muscles and the closing of the airways. The CPAP is responsible for keeping the throat muscles open as it pumps pressurized air into the lungs and throat (9)

There may be times when patients ask whether to try losing weight first in order not to use the machine. But, it is actually advisable to lose weight and use a CPAP machine at the same time. These are actually effective ways in order to treat sleep apnea and of course, to prevent obesity. 

People with sleeping disorder are most likely to suffer from their weight. Well, sleep and weight always goes hand in hand. That is the reason why if you have sleep problems, you should treat them immediately. Otherwise, it will lead to weight gain. 

It was found out that lack of sleep allows your body to produce more ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone which tells your body to go eat (10). On the other hand, your body tends to produce less leptin, a hormone which tells your body to stop eating. To sum up, if your body produces more ghrelin and less leptin, you will most likely gain weight. Since sleep apnea is said to affect your weight, treating it can actually help you lose weight. 


Indeed, losing weight is one of the most effective means to treat sleep apnea. But then, treating sleep apnea can also help you lose weight. Having a healthy diet and an active lifestyle will not only result in weight loss but also in treating sleep apnea. 

It is advised to have a very low-calorie intake, together with an active lifestyle in order to reduce the weight that will most likely result in the treatment of sleep apnea. The greater the change in waist circumference and body weight, the greater the improvement in sleep apnea. Such a diet and a healthy lifestyle are not only inexpensive but also effective in treating sleep apnea.


(1) https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/178633.php


(3) https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo2010113

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3619301/

(5)     https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/connection-between-weight-and-sleep-apnea

(6) https://www.sleepapnea.org/weight-matters-obesity-and-sleep-apnea/

(7) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090206081319.htm

(8) https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/cpap

(9) https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-apnea/news/20190326/cpap-may-boost-weight-loss-for-dieting-adults

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/

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