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Sleep apnoea and obesity: What you need to know

Posted by Blooms The Chemist on 4 May 2023

Sleep apnoea and obesity: What you need to know


As the medical community learns more about sleep apnoea and how it occurs, there are links being made between having excess weight and your sleep apnoea symptoms worsening.

Excess weight is known as weight above what’s considered healthy, which is often measured through Body Mass Index (BMI)1.

We explore how your weight can impact sleep apnoea and what you can do about it.

How does my weight impact sleep apnoea?

Obstructive sleep apnoea is most commonly found in people who are clinically overweight or clinically obese. This is due to excess weight creating fat deposits in your neck that can block your upper airway during sleep when your airway is already relaxed1.

Obstructive sleep apnoea is one of the most common medical disorders in the general Australian population, with it being linked very closely to obesity.

Health professionals understand that excess weight is the most important risk factor for developing obstructive sleep apnoea.

However, there is also another link as obstructive sleep apnoea can potentially lead to more weight gain, which leads to a vicious cycle of weight gain and worsening symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea2.

What if I’m not overweight and still have sleep apnoea?

Yes, you can still get sleep apnoea even if you’re not overweight3.

Just because sleep apnoea is most commonly found in people who are overweight or obese, that doesn’t mean that it is exclusively found in people who are overweight.

A new study has found that obstructive sleep apnoea can occur in people who aren’t overweight, and it’s difficult to discover or treat as it’s most commonly found in people who are overweight3.

The study focused on 163 patients, with 25% of the patients having a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range.

Although these patients were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea, the study also found that these patients are challenging to treat as they are less compliant with using CPAP therapy to ease their obstructive sleep apnoea symptoms.

How are obesity and sleep apnoea linked?

Obesity is the strongest risk factor for developing obstructive sleep apnoea, with 58 per cent of moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnoea cases caused by obesity2.

This is due to the excess weight putting pressure on the airways and resulting in breathing issues while you are sleeping.

There is also an association between obesity, obstructive sleep apnoea and cardiovascular disease due to the pressure that obstructive sleep apnoea is putting on your body while sleeping.

Obstructive sleep apnoea has been strongly linked with an increased risk of stroke, ischaemic heart disease and more4.

How can I treat my obesity and sleep apnoea?

Obesity and low levels of physical activity are associated with moderate-to-severe cases of obstructive sleep apnoea.

Some things you can do to treat obesity include5:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight through lifestyle changes, such as controlling your diet and eating less fried or processed foods high in sugar

  • Exercising more, as this can improve your sleep and help decrease your weight, blood pressure and fatigue

  • Reducing alcohol consumption if you drink

  • Maintaining good sleep habits, including avoiding large meals and caffeine

Treating your obstructive sleep apnoea can include adhering to CPAP therapy, which includes using your machine and mask for symptom relief.

CPAP treatment can significantly relieve your obstructive sleep apnoea symptoms and improve how you feel during the day.

If you want more information about sleep apnoea, sleep health and more, please explore our Sleep Health Hub.

References

1United States Sleep Foundation, Weight Loss and Sleep Apnea, accessed 14 April 2023

2Australian Family Physician, Obstructive sleep apnoea and obesity, accessed 14 April 2023

3National Library of Medicine, Obstructive Sleep Apnea without Obesity Is Common and Difficult to Treat: Evidence for a Distinct Pathophysiological Phenotype, accessed 14 April 2023

4Journal of the American Heart Association, Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Cardiovascular Disease: A Review of the Literature and Proposed Multidisciplinary Clinical Management Strategy, accessed 14 April 2023

5National Library of Medicine, Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Obesity: Implications for Public Health, accessed 14 April 2023