By Gina Roberts-Grey
It’s a fact: obesity increases a person’s risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. Excess weight can constrict or obstruct airways, making it difficult to breathe properly when sleeping. To combat obstructed airways, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is commonly prescribed to help keep airways open.
But a growing body of research is demonstrating that OSA and obesity may be a vicious circle in which both men and women can find themselves stuck. That research further cements the importance of discussing possible indicators of sleep apnea with your doctor, such as fatigue, excessive snoring or incidences of stopping breathing while you sleep.
Studies have shown that men with OSA have below-normal levels of the appetite-affecting hormone leptin, which tells your brain your body doesn’t need to eat, and above-normal levels of ghrelin, a hormone that sends signals to the brain that you’re hungry and need to eat.
Research published in The European Respiratory Journal offers hope for those battling excess weight along with sleep apnea. According to the study, CPAP use has been shown to help regulate the body’s production of these appetite-influencing hormones, helping those with OSA better manage their weight.
And CPAP doesn’t need a lot of time to provide weight-related benefits. The researchers say that levels of the hormones were shown to regulate just eight weeks after those with OSA began using CPAP therapy nightly.
Separate research helps connect the dots between OSA and obesity. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that as little as eight days of interrupted sleep or slight sleep deprivation—two common factors associated with OSA—can increase production of ghrelin. The research showed that someone who is even the slightest bit sleepy can increase their caloric intake as much as 500 more calories a day. Consuming 500 or more excess calories three to four days a week can lead to packing on two to three pounds a month.
Experts stress that regular use of CPAP when sleeping is crucial not only to treating OSA but also to experiencing appetite-related hormonal benefits.
Think you or a loved one may have sleep apnea? Take this quick risk assessment to better understand the disorder and learn what you should discuss with your doctor.