Can Treating Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Loss?

Obesity and being overweight are major contributing factors for sleep apnea, a disorder that causes breathing difficulties during sleep. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of this disorder, with a narrowing of the upper airways resulting in interruptions to your breathing. Before considering whether treating OSA can result in weight loss, we first need to look at how this sleep disorder is affected by your weight.

Is There a Link Between Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain?

Sleep apnea does not directly result in weight gain, but there is an indirect link. Someone with OSA can awake multiple times every hour during the night as the brain prompts the body to breathe as oxygen levels dip. 

It is the poor quality of sleep resulting from such frequent awakenings which is seen as one of the prime reasons that OSA may lead to weight gain.

Sleep is key to the body’s restorative processes which help keep your body healthy and balanced. When you are not sleeping well, two hormones in particular can be affected -- and influence your appetite. 

Sleep deprivation is linked to increased levels of ghrelin, a hormone which signals you are hungry and need to eat -- and decreased levels of leptin, a hormone which suppresses your appetite.

Sleep Apnea and Sleep Deprivation Affect Weight

In addition, a lack of sleep is also linked to poorer food choices. Excessive daytime fatigue is one of the main symptoms of OSA, and when tired, people can be more prone to reach for processed foods full of sugar -- as well as caffeine-based products in order to try and raise their alertness and concentration levels for the day ahead.

One more reason why OSA could lead to weight gain is the sheer fact that when we are tired, we are less motivated to exercise. 

We all know regular exercise is good for our overall health, helping control our weight as well as boosting our energy levels. However, when you have excessive daytime fatigue due to OSA, you are less likely to feel like going out for that run or hitting the gym.

Will CPAP Therapy and Treating Sleep Apnea Help To Lose Weight

Although there are a number of possible contributing factors for OSA, one of the primary ones is excess weight. Being overweight can lead to excess fatty deposits in the neck, narrowing the airways further at night when relaxed -- and causing the breathing difficulties associated with OSA. 

Therefore, it is only natural to wonder whether treating OSA can lead to losing weight, too.

For those with a moderate to severe degree of OSA, CPAP therapy remains the most effective treatment. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and the treatment uses a machine to supply pressurized air through a mask worn overnight to help keep the airways open. 

For many people, CPAP can have a quick impact in reducing their OSA symptoms and restoring them to good nights of proper sleep.

Treating Sleep Apnea Improves Lifestyle

By improving your sleep, you allow the body to rest and be better balanced, reducing the risk of any disruption to the hormones which affect your appetite. 

A well-rested body and mind will also be more motivated to exercise. Therefore, in treating OSA and getting better rest you may create the conditions that aid weight loss.

Your doctor will advise you to increase your exercise and follow a healthy diet. Being fully rested will make you more likely to follow this advice, but you must continue with your CPAP therapy -- even if your OSA symptoms improve.

Healthy Weight Loss Can Reduce OSA Symptoms

The aim of a healthier lifestyle is weight loss since excess weight is a major contributory factor for OSA. 

It is estimated that a weight loss of 10% to 15% can see a reduction of up to 50% in the severity of a person’s OSA if you are moderately obese. 

However, while weight loss can be key in helping reduce OSA symptoms, it is not necessarily a cure -- and most people will need to stay compliant with their recommended treatment such as CPAP therapy.

There is not a direct causal link between sleep apnea and weight, but addressing one may help the other. However, every individual is different and treatment will be specific to their individual circumstances and requirements. 

Is it Possible To Gain Weight After Starting CPAP Therapy?

There is a suggestion that for some patients CPAP can actually lead to weight gain rather than weight loss. 

The reasons for this are not particularly clear and more research is required. One of the possible reasons for this could be do with appetite again. It may be that the change in sleeping patterns brought about using CPAP affects an individual’s eating habits, as well as their appetite.

Another possible reason is that less calories are burned overnight while sleeping. 

The logic behind this is that CPAP can make breathing a lot easier, reducing the effort the body requires to use to breathe. Less effort means less calories burned -- which could then translate to weight gain. 

However, the results suggesting weight gain from CPAP are based on a set of randomized trials, and more research is needed.

Final Thoughts

Left untreated, OSA can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes. 

If you are experiencing symptoms including excessive daytime fatigue, heavy snoring, morning headaches and increased irritability it is important to consult with your doctor. 

Treating sleep apnea requires a healthy lifestyle as well as treatments like CPAP. By treating OSA and taking an active approach to weight loss if overweight, you can help reduce the risk of serious health complications.