A study by a sleep clinic in Newcastle has shown that the severity of their patients’ sleep apnoea was directly linked to their weight. After examining 20 years of records it became clear that as their patients gained weight and increased their BMI, the frequency of their apnoeas increased.
There has long been a link between sleep apnoea and being overweight, but it is interesting to find a study that shows the link between the two so directly. On average men put on 10kg and women 12kg from when they first visited the clinic, but while no specific reason was named for why they put on the weight, the increase in the severity of their sleep apnoea was a clear consequence.
“As body weight goes up, Sleep Apnoea gets worse”
Dr Jeffry Pretto, who did the analysis of the clinic’s data, said: “How many times each hour people actually stop breathing, or slow their breathing down significantly - that marker is very much linked to body mass index. As people’s body weight goes up, the severity of their sleep apnoea gets worse. The other interesting finding is the instance of severe obesity - that is if they have a body mass index of over 40. Back in 1987, only 3 per cent of people that were referred to us for sleep studies we’d classify as having morbid obesity. In 2007, that went up to 15 per cent. It’s gone up by a factor of five.”
Without successful treatment for sleep apnoea it can become a vicious cycle. Sleep apnoea makes you tired during the day, giving you less energy to be active and do exercise. This leads to you gaining weight, increasing the severity of your apnoea, making you even more lethargic. The cycle goes on and on. Some people also blame increase carbohydrate cravings on tiredness, which leads to weight increase.
To break the cycle, you first need to get treatment for your sleep apnoea. CPAP therapy, the most successful and widely-adopted treatment for sleep apnoea, will alleviate or greatly reduce the frequency of apnoeas, giving you the energy and enthusiasm during the day to allow you to be more active and to exercise.
From there, the circle repeats itself in the opposite direction, more energy, more exercise, lose weight, fewer apnoeas, more energy, etc. It takes determination, will power and patience, but by losing weight you can reduce the severity of your sleep apnoea and, in some cases, alleviate it completely.
Lifestyle changes are difficult - but not impossible
While easier said then done, if you are suffering from sleep apnoea then it is important to try to at least maintain your current body weight if possible, and ideally look to gradually lose weight. One of the major problems with sleep apnoea is that it usually gets diagnosed very late, on average after around seven years of suffering, by which time most people are over 40 and a change of lifestyle becomes very difficult to implement.
Losing weight when you have sleep apnoea is far from easy, but it gets easier as you go along as the positive cycle mentioned earlier begins to take effect. The health benefits are not only confined to reduced sleep apnoea, so it is certainly worth making a concerted effort towards.