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Why Does Sleep Apnea Make it so Hard to Lose Weight?

Jan 26, 2023
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You've tried exercising, dieting, drinking gallons of water, and eating off a small plate, but NOTHING works and it doesn't make sense! You may be fighting a losing battle! Learn how lack of sleep may be the reason.

For many people, maintaining a healthy weight can be a lifetime battle. Put simply, people gain weight when they consume more calories than their bodies burn off, resulting in those calories being stored as fat. 

Over time, the consistent act of taking in more calories than you consume will eventually lead to obesity, which is associated with the leading causes of death in the United States and worldwide, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

8 Reasons Why Exercising and Dieting Won't Work

Incorporating healthy behaviors into your lifestyle, such as regular physical activity and healthy eating, should reduce excess weight gain, right? Unfortunately, there are many factors that may be beyond your control that make losing weight a losing battle. Inactivity or overconsumption of calories aside, there are other mitigating factors that can cause you to gain weight. They can include:

  1. Genetics – may determine the amount of fat you store and where that fat is distributed
  2. Age – normal muscle loss, hormonal changes, and decreased metabolism
  3. Behavior – learned habits that involve poor-quality dietary intake
  4. Social and economic factors – lack of access to exercise activities, healthy cooking, or fresh foods like fruits and vegetables.
  5. Stress and anxiety - increased cortisol causes fat to build up in the mid-section of our bodies
  6. Pregnancy
  7. Microbiome – bacteria in your gut can affect how foods are digested
  8. Unhealthy sleeping habits

How Do Poor Sleeping Habits Cause Weight Gain?

One of the most significant factors that can lead to obesity and reduced metabolism is lack of sleep. Many people underestimate the importance of getting enough healthy sleep. Not getting enough sleep can lead to a reduction in leptin and an elevation of ghrelin; two hormones that are important in regulating metabolism. In addition, maintaining a regular sleep schedule and getting adequate sleep is crucial to allowing your body time to recover and repair itself.

In an article titled “Sleep and Weight Gain”, written by Denise Mann and posted on Webmd.com, Michael Breus, Ph.D. explains, “It’s not so much that if you sleep, you will lose weight, but if you are sleep-deprived, meaning that you are not getting enough minutes of sleep or good quality sleep, your metabolism will not function properly. …Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin…Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin.”

According to the author Matthew Walker, Ph.D., in his New York Times bestseller “Why We Sleep”, routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night has a direct and adverse effect on your overall health. Sleep disorders can play a particularly frustrating role and currently affect as many as 50 to 70 million U.S. adults. The top five most prevalent sleep disorders are Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Insomnia, Restless Legs Syndrome, Narcolepsy, and REM Sleep Behavior.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Could be Your Weight Gain Culprit

OSA is a dangerous condition that is characterized by episodes of complete or partial airway obstruction during sleep and can cause you to stop breathing up to hundreds of times per night. The pauses in breathing can cause both drastic changes in your oxygen levels and frequent arousals that fragment your sleep.

If you're not getting restful sleep because your airway is blocked and you have disordered breathing with obstructive sleep apnea, your body is fighting against you. The hormonal imbalance that results from poor sleep makes weight loss nearly impossible.

OSA can directly alter your glucose metabolism and promotes insulin resistance. The National Institutes of Health reports that about 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight and since sleep loss increases your risk of obesity there is a direct correlation.

In addition to the clinical consequences and poor sleep quality, OSA causes daytime sleepiness, which typically results in lower energy and less desire to be active. Few people outside the sleep medicine community are aware that too little good sleep appears to be as much a factor in obesity as too much food and too little exercise.

While having sleep apnea can lead to weight gain, weight gain can also make sleep apnea symptoms worse. When people gain weight, they typically gain it everywhere, even on their necks. Excess weight in this area can narrow your airway and it can be even worse when you lie down. When the air has to squeeze through, it is often heard as snoring or wheezing. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your airway is blocked during sleep, so this excess narrowing can increase the number of times you wake up at night.

Treating Your Sleep Apnea Can Help to Improve Your Overall Health. 

When you have sleep apnea it can cause serious health issues. But if treated, the positive effects can be profound. A good night’s sleep can generate many health benefits including:

  1. Strengthen your immune system
  2. Prevent excess weight gain
  3. Lower risk for serious health problems, like Type 2 Diabetes Stroke, and Heart Disease
  4. Reduce stress and improve mood
  5. Improve cognitive ability and memory
  6. Promote better mental health and decrease depression
  7. Lower inflammation
  8. Increase sex drive

What's the Solution?

If your goal is to lose weight, improve your overall health, and get your energy back, treating your sleep apnea is a solution and a process that does not require a great deal of effort or planning to get started.

Your treatment path depends on your overall health and the severity of your sleep apnea. In cases where an underlying medical condition might be to blame, treating that condition is often the first step.

Contact your Primary Care Physician to schedule an appointment or telehealth visit to discuss a treatment plan. There are a few options for treating sleep apnea, including CPAP, oral appliances, and surgery.

Dentists who solely focus on sleep disorders, such as Pennsylvania Dental Sleep Medicine, offer oral appliances as an excellent alternative to CPAP. These devices are worn in your mouth while you sleep and help keep your airway open. They are noninvasive and nonintrusive, offering a custom fit, are comfortable to wear, and are covered by most medical insurance plans.

Make THIS the year that you finally achieve your weight loss goal! To speak to someone who can help you learn if treating sleep apnea should be a part of your plan, contact Pennsylvania Dental Sleep Medicine at (717) 995-3509 and one of our staff members will help guide you to an effective treatment plan. 

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Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine