Why You Might Be Packing on Pounds with Sleep Apnea

Why You Might Be Packing on Pounds with Sleep Apnea


Have you ever wondered why does sleep apnea cause weight gain? If you have sleep apnea, it could be the reason for your recent weight gain. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. It can lead to increased weight gain if left untreated. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at how sleep apnea can lead to weight gain and what you can do about it.

What is Sleep Apnea and How Does it Affect Weight?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people around the world. It occurs when a person’s airway becomes obstructed during sleep, leading to brief pauses in breathing. These pauses can happen dozens or even hundreds of times each night, and they disrupt the quality of sleep.

One of the lesser-known effects of sleep apnea is weight gain. Research has shown that people with sleep apnea are more likely to be overweight or obese than those without the disorder. So why does sleep apnea cause weight gain? 

There are several factors at play. First, sleep apnea leads to a lack of oxygen in the body. This triggers the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can cause weight gain. Additionally, sleep apnea can disrupt the body’s hormonal balance, leading to changes in appetite and metabolism. 

Another factor is the disruption in sleep patterns caused by sleep apnea. People with the disorder often experience fragmented, shallow sleep, which can lead to daytime fatigue and a lack of energy for exercise and other physical activities. As a result, they may become less active and burn fewer calories, leading to weight gain. 

Furthermore, people with sleep apnea often experience increased cravings and appetite, particularly for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods. This may be due to hormonal changes or the body’s need for quick energy. Unfortunately, indulging in these cravings can lead to weight gain.

Finally, some of the medications used to treat sleep apnea, such as certain antidepressants, can cause weight gain as a side effect.

Lack of Oxygen and Hormonal Changes

One of the main reasons why sleep apnea can lead to weight gain is the lack of oxygen that occurs during the breathing interruptions that happen throughout the night. When a person has sleep apnea, their breathing is disrupted for short periods of time, which can lead to a drop in oxygen levels in the blood. This drop in oxygen triggers the release of hormones that can cause weight gain.

One such hormone is cortisol, which is often referred to as the "stress hormone". When cortisol levels are high, it can lead to an increase in appetite, particularly for foods that are high in sugar and fat. This can result in a person consuming more calories than they need, which can lead to weight gain over time.

Additionally, the lack of oxygen that occurs with sleep apnea can also disrupt the production of other hormones that play a role in weight management. For example, a lack of oxygen can cause a decrease in the production of leptin, which is a hormone that helps to regulate hunger and satiety. This can cause a person to feel hungrier than they should be, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.

In summary, the lack of oxygen that occurs with sleep apnea can trigger hormonal changes in the body that can cause weight gain. By addressing the root cause of the sleep apnea, such as with the use of a CPAP machine, it may be possible to reduce the hormonal changes and help manage weight.

Disruption in Sleep Patterns

One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea is disrupted sleep patterns. This means that individuals with sleep apnea often struggle with staying asleep or sleeping deeply throughout the night. When the body is not able to get the rest it needs, it can trigger hormonal changes that may lead to weight gain.

For example, studies have found that sleep deprivation can disrupt the hormones that regulate hunger and fullness, leading to increased appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods. This means that individuals with sleep apnea may find themselves more inclined to eat larger portions or snack frequently, leading to an excess of calories that can contribute to weight gain.

Furthermore, a lack of restful sleep can also lead to a decrease in energy and motivation, which may make individuals less likely to exercise or engage in physical activity. This sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to weight gain and a slower metabolism.

In addition to the hormonal and behavioral factors, disrupted sleep patterns can also affect the body's metabolism on a physiological level. The body needs restful sleep to regulate and maintain healthy metabolic function, including the way the body processes glucose and burns fat for energy. Without adequate sleep, these processes may be disrupted, leading to a slower metabolism and less efficient calorie burning.

Overall, the disruption in sleep patterns that comes with sleep apnea can have a significant impact on weight gain and overall health. Addressing these issues through effective treatment and lifestyle changes can help individuals with sleep apnea manage their weight and improve their quality of life.

Increased Cravings and Appetite

Sleep apnea can affect the hormones responsible for regulating hunger and satiety, leading to an increase in appetite and cravings. Specifically, the levels of ghrelin and leptin are altered in those with sleep apnea. Ghrelin is known as the "hunger hormone" and is responsible for stimulating appetite, while leptin is known as the "satiety hormone" and helps to regulate feelings of fullness.

When someone with sleep apnea experiences frequent interruptions in their sleep, it can disrupt the normal levels of ghrelin and leptin, causing them to feel hungry even if they've recently eaten. This can lead to an increase in snacking and overeating, particularly on high-calorie and carbohydrate-rich foods, which are often used as a source of quick energy.

Furthermore, the disruption in sleep patterns caused by sleep apnea can lead to an increase in the production of cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress. High levels of cortisol have been linked to an increase in appetite and a preference for high-calorie foods, which can lead to weight gain.

The combination of increased cravings and appetite, along with disrupted sleep patterns, can create a perfect storm for weight gain in individuals with sleep apnea. However, there are ways to manage these symptoms and work towards maintaining a healthy weight.

Some strategies to manage cravings and appetite include:

- Eating a well-balanced diet that includes protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, which can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

- Incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your diet, which can help to regulate digestion and promote feelings of fullness.

- Drinking plenty of water throughout the day, as dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger.

- Limiting the intake of processed and sugary foods, which can trigger cravings and lead to overeating.

- Seeking the guidance of a registered dietitian who can help you develop a healthy meal plan that is tailored to your specific needs and preferences.

Overall, managing sleep apnea and weight gain requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the various factors that contribute to weight gain. By taking a holistic approach that includes dietary changes, exercise, stress reduction, and medical management, individuals with sleep apnea can work towards maintaining a healthy weight and improving their overall health and well-being.

Decreased Metabolism

In addition to the hormonal changes that sleep apnea can cause, it can also decrease your metabolism, which can make it more difficult to lose weight. Metabolism is the process by which your body converts food into energy. When your metabolism slows down, your body doesn't burn as many calories, and those extra calories are stored as fat.

Studies have shown that people with sleep apnea have a lower metabolic rate than those without sleep apnea. This means that even if you eat the same amount of food as someone without sleep apnea, you're more likely to gain weight.

The decrease in metabolism is likely due to the body's response to the stress of sleep apnea. When you have sleep apnea, your body is constantly waking up throughout the night, even if you don't realize it. This puts stress on your body and triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that can slow down your metabolism.

To combat a decreased metabolism, it's important to make sure you're eating a balanced diet and staying active. Regular exercise can help boost your metabolism and burn more calories, while eating a diet high in protein can help preserve muscle mass and prevent your metabolism from slowing down further.

In addition to these lifestyle changes, your doctor may also recommend medications or other treatments to help regulate your metabolism. However, it's important to talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment to make sure it's safe and effective for you.

Medications and Weight Gain

It's important to note that some medications prescribed for sleep apnea can cause weight gain as a side effect. Certain antidepressants and antipsychotics, for example, can increase appetite and decrease metabolism, leading to unwanted weight gain. Additionally, some medications used to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, and other health conditions can also contribute to weight gain.

If you're concerned about the potential for medication-related weight gain, it's important to discuss this with your healthcare provider. They can help you weigh the benefits of taking these medications against the potential side effects and may be able to adjust your dosage or switch you to a different medication if necessary.

However, it's important not to stop taking any medications without consulting your healthcare provider first, as abruptly stopping certain medications can be dangerous and may worsen your condition.

Managing Sleep Apnea and Weight Loss Strategies

Now that we know how sleep apnea can contribute to weight gain, what can we do to manage it? 

  1. Get Treatment for Sleep Apnea: The first step to managing sleep apnea and reducing the risk of weight gain is to seek medical treatment. The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which provides a steady flow of air through a mask to keep the airway open during sleep. Other treatment options include dental devices, lifestyle changes, and surgery.
  2. Make Lifestyle Changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can also help manage sleep apnea and prevent weight gain. This includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress reduction techniques such as yoga or meditation. Avoiding alcohol, smoking, and caffeine can also help improve sleep quality and reduce the risk of weight gain.
  3. Seek Support: Support from family and friends can also make a difference when trying to manage sleep apnea and lose weight. Joining a support group or seeking professional counseling can also help individuals stay motivated and on track with their weight loss goals.
  4. Monitor Weight and Sleep Quality: Keeping track of weight and sleep quality can help individuals monitor progress and identify areas that need improvement. A food diary and sleep log can also be useful tools to help individuals track eating and sleeping patterns.
Back to blog