The Link Between Obesity and Sleep Apnea

Overweight stomachs

Sleep apnea and obesity feed on each other creating a deadly downward spiral of disease.

Repeated arousals during sleep, which characterize sleep apnea, may result in insulin resistance and poor regulation of blood sugars. In addition, hormonal changes may increase the storage of fat and the increased appetite for high calorie foods, leading to further weight gain. Thus poor sleep as experienced by sleep apnea sufferers can contribute to weight gain or to the inability to lose weight. On the other hand, obese or over-weight people are at higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea as fat deposits narrow the airway making it more susceptible to obstruction.

What are Leptin and Ghrelin and why should I care?

So what is the biology linking poor sleep and weight gain? Introducing Leptin and Ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone involved in the regulation of appetite, metabolism and calorie burning. Leptin’s job is to inform your brain when you had enough food and when your body should start burning up calories. When you sleep, the levels of Leptin in your body increase. When the level of Leptin is high, your brain thinks that you have sufficient energy and thus it does not make you feel hungry. However, when you don't get enough sleep, the level of Leptin decreases. When the level of Leptin is low, your brain thinks that you don't have enough energy and thus makes you feel hungry, even though what you really need is sleep and not food. Furthermore, your brain instructs your body to store the calories you eat as fat preparing itself for the next time you may need energy.

Ghrelin is the other hormone involved in regulation of weight. As opposed to Leptin, Ghrelin’s job is to inform your brain when you need to eat and when your body should store energy as fat instead of burning calories. When you sleep, your body requires less energy, and, therefore, the level of Ghrelin decreases. When you don't get enough sleep, the level of Ghrelin increases causing your brain to make you think that you are hungry, when, in fact, all you need is sleep. The brain also notifies your body to stop burning calories and instead store them since it thinks there is an energy shortage.

If you are overweight or obese or feeling sleepy during the day, what should you do to break this cycle?

You should be assessed by a qualified physician and evaluated for sleep apnea. Traditionally, patients had to spend the night in a sleep lab, however, now they can be tested for sleep apnea in the comfort of their own bedroom. After determining the diagnosis, a treatment plan should be included in the overall weight loss program. Sleep apnea can be successfully treated using PAP (positive airway pressure) devices like a CPAP or Auto CPAP. Patients who are compliant with their sleep apnea treatment do not feel sleepy and are more likely to effectively lose weight. Their weight loss, in turn, will help reduce the severity of their sleep apnea.

Our home sleep apnea solution allows patients to be assessed, diagnosed and treated in the comfort of their home. Our award-winning home sleep test is convenient, affordable and as reliable as an in-lab study. We offer the Auto CPAP (APAP), which is the top-of-the-line device, to all of our patients. Both our home sleep test and treatment device are covered by most insurance carriers.

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