Diseases & Conditions

Sleep and Obesity

There is a strong relationship between sleep apnea and obesity. The link is so strong that almost every obese person has at least one symptom of sleep apnea: loud and irregular snoring.

Being overweight often contributes to snoring, since excess fat in the neck area significantly narrows the airway.

Why obesity causes sleep apnea

As long as you gain weight, your neck becomes thicker. As the level of fat in the throat increases, your airway gets smaller. The fat is located not within the wall of the airway, but around it. When the muscle tone is reduced during sleep, the fatty tissue, in effect, mass loads the airway and tends to collapse it.

In overweight people, the excess of fatty tissue on the abdomen causes abnormal weight that can interfere with the normal breathing. So, the more overweight you are, the more difficult it is to breathe during your sleep, which causes your sleep apnea to worsen. In other words, the more fat in the throat, the more likely the airway is in danger to become blocked. Obesity is a huge risk to worsen sleep apnea.

When sleep apnea is aggravated, you may feel drowsier during the day. This means that excessive daytime sleepiness is getting worse as well. If you sleep all day, you do not consume enough energy and become less active and gain more weight. In this way, you aggravate your health situation more. If a person is overweight and suffering from sleep-disordered breathing, he or she may not be as motivated to exercise or eat healthy and nutritious foods. When apnea leads to daytime sleepiness, it may be that much harder to begin or sustain an exercise program, which has been shown to help people begin or maintain weight loss. Not only does obesity contribute to sleep problems such as sleep apnea, but sleep problems can also contribute to obesity.

Improving sleep apnea and obesity

The following tips will guide you to break the link between sleep apnea and obesity:

Weight loss

Weight loss can eliminate sleep apnea if obesity is one of the main causes. We also know that sleep apnea can cause weight gain because you sleep less at night and you are always drowsy during the day.

It has been shown that weight loss can lead to improved sleep efficiency, decreased snoring and improved oxygenation, but it will be very difficult to escape obesity as long as sleep apnea is left untreated.

For better results with weight loss, start using Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy as your main remedy for sleep apnea. This will allow you to sleep better, which greatly helps a weight loss plan.

Surgical weight loss

Surgical weight loss, particularly gastric bypass surgery, is recommended only for severe obesity for patients who cannot control their weight with traditional methods, such as lifestyle modifications, pharmacotherapy or diet changes.

CPAP therapy

CPAP therapy is the most common treatment for sleep apnea, as well as the most effective. This device provides a stream of air through a mask that is worn while you sleep by keeping the airway open during the night, preventing it from collapsing. If you are overweight and have obstructive sleep apnea, then you should start your CPAP therapy as soon as possible.

You will have a more restful sleep and better energy levels during the daytime. This will allow you to fight against obesity with less effort.

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

We’re here to make managing your healthcare easier.

800 8 2223 Request an Appointment

Our Doctors

Meet all the doctors from Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

View Doctors

Patient Stories

Listen to the inspiring stories from our patients.

Learn More

Insurance Partners

We partner with many insurance companies offering coverage for your care.

Explore More