Facebook Pixel

The Link Between Weight and Sleep Apnea

Rate This

Sleep apnea is defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a sleep disorder where the patient's airway closes during sleep; while everyone's upper throat muscles relax during sleep, sleep apnea patients have a narrower throat area. As a result, air cannot reach the lungs.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include loud snoring, labored breathing, and brief periods of ceased breathing (which usually last ten seconds). Since breathing problems disrupt the patient's quality of sleep, daytime sleepiness may result. The NIH notes that other outcomes of sleep apnea include insomnia, depression, memory problems, restless sleep, morning headaches, poor concentration, personality changes, and waking during the night to urinate.

But what causes sleep apnea? Part of it is the construction of the patient's nose, mouth, and throat: nasal obstruction, a narrow airway, a large tongue, neck, or tonsils can all be causes, according to the NIH. But another factor in sleep apnea is obesity. Science Daily reports a study presented at the 23rd Annual Meeting of Associated Professional Sleep Societies show the direct link between weight and sleep apnea occurrence.

The researchers used 3,001 men and women; 55.2 percent of the participants were women. Each of the participants were classified by the prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea: subjects with no sleep apnea were given an apnea-hypopnea index of under five; subjects with moderate sleep apnea were given an apnea-hypopnea index of between five and 15; subjects with severe sleep apnea were given an apnea-hypopnea index of above 15. The body mass index (BMI) of each participant were recorded, and participants were monitored for five years. After all variables were accounted for (age, gender, race, initial BMI, change in apnea-hypopnea index), significant difference was found, according to Science Daily: subjects with moderate obstructive sleep apnea had a BMI of + 0.22 kg/m2 compared to non-sleep apnea patients, and subjects with severe obstructive sleep apnea had a BMI of + 0.52 kg/m2. The researchers suggest that obesity may predispose a person to sleep apnea.

Weight loss is one recommended lifestyle change to alleviate sleep apnea symptoms, according to the NIH. Other lifestyle changes include not sleeping on the back, and restricting alcohol and sedatives before sleep. However, even if weight is the cause of sleep apnea, patients may benefit from other sleep apnea treatments, such as CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, which keeps the airways open during sleep.
Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch received her bachelor’s of science degree in neuroscience from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in May 2009. She is the Hartford Women's Health Examiner and she writes about abuse on Suite 101.

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Sleep Apnea

Get Email Updates

Sleep Apnea Guide

HERWriter Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!