When you come to the intersection of sleep apnea and obesity

Many people associate sleep apnea with being overweight, and to a certain extent, it's true. 

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be caused by the bodily conditions that obesity can bring (although being overweight is not the only cause). 

Meanwhile, perfectly thin people can also suffer from sleep apnea as well. It might be because they have a neurological condition that leads to central sleep apnea.

Or, they might have problems with the structure of the upper airway (such as a deviated septum) which could make it more likely for them to develop a sleep breathing disorder.

In any event, lost sleep by whatever cause can also lead to unwanted weight gain. Meanwhile, American is getting heavier with each passing year. 


Understanding obesity


Being overweight or obese is one of the the US's biggest public health concerns. 

Obesity in America: The statistics

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Obesity, by definition

What does it mean to be obese? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer these definitions: 


What is BMI?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a formula that calculates an estimate of body fat based on a ratio of body weight to height. It's been found to be a reliable predictor of risk factors for diseases related to metabolism.

The higher the BMI score, the higher the risk for chronic illnesses that include, among others, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea. To calculate BMI, visit the BMI calculator tool offered by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The relationship between obesity and sleep apnea

Bidirectional may be the best way to describe the relationship between obesity and sleep apnea. Obesity contributes to the development of sleep apnea, and vice versa.

How obesity contributes to sleep apnea

The Mayo Clinic reports that people who are obese are 4 times more likely to develop sleep apnea.

When we gain weight (especially in our midsection and neck areas), this added fatty tissue joins with gravity to compromise the body's ability to breathe adequately and with ease during sleep.

Heaviness around the girth makes it harder for the diaphragm to do the work of breathing.  A large neck (17 inches or more for men, and 16 inches or more for women) has been shown to lead to partially or completed blocked airways during sleep. This is due to excessive tissue here, as well as less overall tone in the muscles. Also, fat deposits hold more fluid than lean muscle, so water retention may contribute to the problem.

How sleep apnea contributes to obesity

To make matters worse, sleep apnea results in daytime sleepiness, which can sap any motivation a person has to lose weight. In addition, sleep deprivationhas been shown to lead to eating behaviors which are driven by the imbalance of chemistry in the brain following periods of lost sleep. 

This explains why tired people crave snack foods: the brain's chemical imbalance of leptin and ghrelin fuels a physiological need for carbohydrates to jumpstart one's energy levels.

You can see how it becomes a vicious cycle for so many Americans. Not enough sleep = overeating, but the results of overeating also compromise sleep. 

An article in Hypertension in 2003 goes as far as to suggest that sleep apnea should be highly suspected in those who are obese, who also have the following:

"If I could just lose 10 pounds..."


... it would be a great start!

Losing weight while simultaneously treating sleep apnea can reduce daytime sleepiness and return energy and motivation to those who need to exercise and practice better vigilance with their diets.

Even the smallest loss of weight can show significant clinical improvement in the severity of one's sleep apnea. Keep in mind, however, that one's BMI is not the only risk factor for sleep apnea. There are many thin people who, due to other physiological reasons, also have sleep apnea. 

At Sound Sleep Health, we work in concert with Sound Medical Weight Loss to help those struggling with the sleep-weight connection. 

If you are challenged to lose those unwanted pounds, you may wish to consider working with a knowledgeable, trained physician who can help you lose weight and reclaim your health in a safe, healthy way. 


American Thoracic Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mayo Clinic
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
National Sleep Foundation

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