The Vicious Cycle Between Weight and Sleep Apnea
None of us like to be overweight. It doesn’t feel good, does it? Sometimes, we’re overweight because of genetics and, genetics or not, losing weight is difficult and life-changing. For those of us who suffer from sleep apnea, weight changes can be especially hard.
There is a strong relationship between sleep apnea and weight. Being overweight is an important risk factor for sleep apnea because it can negatively affect your ability to breathe while you sleep. Furthermore, weight problems can exacerbate other health issues also related to sleep apnea, including cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Sleep apnea can also cause you to gain weight. A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that “sleep problems likely contribute to weight gain.”
A 2013 study published by the National Academy of Sciences supports these results, finding that men who don’t get enough sleep will put on weight. In a controlled experiment, men who slept only five hours a week gained one to two pounds per week, on average. Other studies, including one published in 2010 and another in 2004, provide additional evidence.
Do CPAP Machines Cause Weight Gain?
CPAP machines are a common treatment for sleep apnea. 4 out of 5 CPAP users don’t use their machines for the full recommended amount of time each night because they can be loud and uncomfortable. Weight gain may be another issue associated with CPAP use.
According to Dr. Frank Domino, in a 2015 study that looked at over 3,000 patients, on average CPAP users see increases in their body-mass index. This result is independent of age, gender, baseline weight, CPAP compliance, and the severity of sleep apnea.
The Power of Weight Loss
Weight loss is a powerful long-term treatment for sleep apnea for those who are overweight or obese. A 2009 study, published by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, found evidence of sleep apnea symptom alleviation in men who restricted their diets over a nine-week period. Concretely, they found a 58% improvement in symptoms over that period of time.
Weight loss also helps with reducing the risk of associated complications, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. So important is weight loss that it’s the first treatment emphasized by the American College of Physicians.
Aerobic and Enjoyable Exercise
Working out can be…annoying, can’t it? It’s easy to get bored and sometimes it’s just uncomfortable. Oftentimes, progress can be tough to measure and sometimes progress turns into setbacks. Yet, exercise can give you energy, confidence, and it can help you sleep better. And the good news is that you don’t need to go crazy to see results.
Some of the best exercise is the enjoyable kind and, in fact, it’s the enjoyable exercise that you’re most likely to sustain. Working out is not about hitting the gym hard for an hour. This can be unhealthy and counterproductive. Start with something easier, like aerobic exercise and find workouts you enjoy.
Do you like to hike? Walk along the beach? Did you play sports? All of these are viable workouts and you don’t need to go overboard. You’ll be amazed at what an hour of exercise a day, at 65 to 85% of your heart rate for about 80% of that time can do, especially if you can make it part of your routine four to five days a week.
Don’t have time to workout? Do you catch yourself watching T.V.? Are you ever surfing on the internet looking for something to do? Do you ever have a spare 10 minutes between activities?
Remember what’s important to you, your health. Focus on that, and you’ll find a way to achieve a healthier, more comfortable, more energized lifestyle.
Your Diet Can Save Your Life
In a 2017 study, researchers write, “Lifestyle changes and weight loss are cornerstones of OSA therapy.” When combined with exercising, a simple, non-rigorous diet can be a powerful tool toward becoming healthier and stronger. What kind of non-rigorous diet are we talking about? In 2011, researchers found that something as easy as a Mediterranean diet can improve the symptoms of sleep apnea.
The Mediterranean diet is also good for heart health, and can reduce the risk for Parkinson’s, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Best of all, it includes a lot of the foods we love.
It’s important to make sure you’re still eating in a way that you enjoy. Research has found that while diets, on average, cause a five to ten percent reduction in weight in the first six months, this weight tends to return afterward. Rather than focus on the exact diet, monitor what you’re eating, reduce caloric intake, and combine dieting with exercise.
The most important thing to remember is that your mind is like a homing missile. Once you have clarity in the goals you want to achieve and focus on them, you’ll find a way to succeed.