Wondering why it seems harder to lose weight, especially as you get older? Have you tried all the latest fad diets without seeing the long term outcome you desire? Have you joined a gym or exercise program but lack the energy commit to going every day? We all know it can be more challenging to keep the weight off as we age, but that may not be the only answer! Another common complaint of the aging process may be a contributing factor: not getting enough restorative sleep. Many middle-aged people experience increased weight gain and disruptive sleep. Because obesity is a common problem as we age, many adults spend a lot of time and effort to lose weight. Yet, good intentions may yield disappointing results. Often, many people complain they barely have the energy to get through daily activities, let alone another obligation to exercise.
So, what’s the answer? One area to consider is untreated obstructive sleep apnea.
What is OSA?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep-disordered breathing condition. With this medical condition, a person’s throat muscles will periodically soften and block the airway while asleep. When a person stops breathing for a very short period, it is referred to as apnea. Often, apnea is apart of a normal sleep cycle. However, the untreated obstructive sleep apnea patient will experience more frequent apnea events that may result in snoring or feeling like you are gasping to breathe. Other symptoms may include excessive daytime sleepiness resulting from not sleeping well or waking up still feeling tired. Headaches and dry mouth are also frequent complaints.
How does this contribute to gaining weight?
Obesity and obstructive sleep apnea tend to coexist with one another. That is, where one condition is present, the other can also be found. Both conditions are also associated with inflammation, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Obesity is a contributing factor to chronic illness, including sleep apnea.
Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can contribute to obesity because of how it affects a person’s lifestyle. Sleep disrupted breathing will naturally result in feeling excessively tired during the day. When we feel fatigued, at the end of the day, the last thing we usually want to do is exercise to lose weight. This inactivity often will result in weight gain, which becomes a tiring cycle that continues and may influence one’s ability to maintain a healthy weight level.
Additionally, feeling sleepy during the day worsens with weight gain. When you gain weight, it increases the severity of excessive daytime sleepiness. In one study that took place over seven years, research participants noted they felt more fatigued during the day as they gained more weight. Additionally, those that experienced severe OSA symptoms tend to have an increase in daytime fatigue, especially in women and those experiencing mental health issues.
Obstructive sleep apnea also intrudes on the natural hormones that regulate metabolism, such as leptin and ghrelin, that function during slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep occurs later in our sleep cycle and produces those moments of deep, restorative sleep that we all crave during a good nights sleep. Sleep-disordered breathing prevents the optimal function of these natural hormones and increases the risk of diabetes.
Likewise, this condition contributes to obesity by influencing the dietary choices that are eaten when people feel fatigued. Poor food choice is linked with poor quality of sleep. However, studies further confirm that people of all ages with untreated obstructive sleep apnea tend to reach for foods that are higher in fat and lower in nutritional value. These food choices do not help with weight loss goals. Instead, they cause you to gain weight. Starting the day with a sugar laden coffee and reaching for the mid-afternoon snack of cookies and carbs are common food choices for people that are tired. Wanting to have energy to make it quitting time, you reach for another caffeinated coffee and doughnut.
How does treating OSA help you lose weight?
Now the good news: Obesity is reversible. Just as obesity increases the severity of obstructive sleep apnea symptoms, losing weight may help reduce obstructive sleep apnea symptoms. One study observed that a 10% decrease in weight loss improved symptoms by as much as 26%.
Although there is no reliable method to ensure this will be the same for everyone. On the contrary, only a small amount of OSA patients will be cured by losing weight. Weight loss treatment alone will not likely address the physiological issues of sleep apnea. So it is possible that even if you lose weight, you will not sleep better.
Instead, a combined approach appears to bring the most significant potential for improving sleep and weight loss. Rather than just using each as a stand-alone approach, being active in a weight loss program and using a CPAP consistently provides the ultimate benefit to reach your goal.
A CPAP machine is the gold standard for treating obstructive sleep apnea. It has been around for decades and has proven effective. Sleep technology has progressed from the clunky, loud CPAP machines of the past. Unlike the CPAP devices of the past, there are many different machines in all sizes and styles. There are also abundant choices of masks. Today’s CPAP devices are sleek, small, and quiet. Additionally, different oral appliances are available to help with apnea events appropriately.
CPAP use also assists with weight loss by increasing energy and decreasing daytime sleepiness. A majority of people that seek treatment for sleep apnea, and adhere to the recommendations of their healthcare provider, report a renewed energy and participation in more daily activity. One study said that 79% of effectively treated OSA patients reported more energy, and 64% reported an increase in daytime activity. Therefore, treating obstructive sleep apnea results in increasing motivation for behaviors that follow a healthier lifestyle.
Interestingly, it appears that treating sleep apnea leads to a healthier lifestyle by causing slower weight gain. One study suggested that sleep apnea patients that consistently used CPAP gained weight at a slower rate compared to others in their same age group. Therefore, imagine the outcome of a combined program of diet education and treating sleep apnea! It’s like having a head start to lose weight and sleep better!
Furthermore, maintenance CPAP tends to improve controlling one’s hunger and appetite because of the improvement in leptin resistance and ghrelin levels, which are the natural hormones that contribute to metabolism. There is also some indication that treating obstructive sleep apnea can decrease inflammation, which has been shown to increase weight gain. It also motivates you to feel better, eat better, have more energy to exercise, and take care of yourself to lose weight and sleep better.
Are you wondering if you have untreated sleep apnea? Making an accurate diagnosis and treatment has never been easier! Sleep tests can seamlessly be performed at home, and the treatment options have never been more natural, comfortable, and plentiful. Contact our office and take one step closer to helping you sleep better and feel healthier!
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