How Can Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Gain?

Sleep Apnea causing weight gain

The Predicament

As adults, many of us suffer from the inconvenience of weight gain. We figure that since we’ve grown older, gaining weight is expected to be a natural part of adulthood. So we diet and exercise like crazy to shed the pounds to become that thinner version of ourselves we used to know, yet we either fail to see results or immediately gain the weight back once it’s lost. For us, it seems as if only a few of adults can remedy their unwanted weight through diet and exercises, while the majority of everyone else is left to wander aimlessly and be full of despair from such an undefeated predicament.

However, in our quest for weight loss, we tend to put all of our focus on the solution and have very little concern for the cause of our problem. Unbeknownst to many, weight gain is attributed to being one of the many side effects linked to the diagnosis of a sleep disorder.

The Cause

As one of the most prevalent causes of sleep deprivation, sleep apnea is characterized as being a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. According to, it is estimated that 100 million people are affected by this sleep-related disorder worldwide. If you are witnessed as having experienced breathing pauses that last for 10 seconds or more while sleeping, then you are technically classified as having this disorder.

These occurring interruptions of irregular breathing patterns are the result of the upper airway being partially or completely obstructed while you sleep. Nevertheless, the tissues in the area of the mouth and throat — the tongue, tonsils, uvula, even the fat pads that line the neck are to blame for these obstructions, either because they are overlarge or swollen. Of the two existing types of apnea, this form that involves the blockage of the airway is the more common of the two types and is known as obstructive sleep apnea.

The other form of apnea, central sleep apnea, occurs when “the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, due to instability in the respiratory control center”. In either case, oxygen is lost to your body during the cessation of breathing and because of this, having this disorder will typically cause you to wake up several times during the night in order for your body to regain breathing consciously. In being made aware of the possibility of having one of the two types of apneas, some of the most common signs to look for include the following:

  • Loud snoring
  • Periodic short of breath awakenings
  • Waking up with a dry mouth/sore throat
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Having insomnia
  • Being extremely fatigued throughout the day
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Consequently, by experiencing any of the before mentioned symptoms, you are more than likely suffering from poor sleep which may also cause problems with memory, concentration, and mood changes.

Sleep Apnea Correlate to Gained Weight

In addition to the numerous physical changes that occur as a result of suffering form sleep deprivation are the physiological effects that take place within the body as well. When the body fails to receive adequate amounts of oxygen during the abrupt periods of breathing cessations, it causes the heart to become stressed which then causes your blood pressure and heart rate to rise. Nonetheless, when your blood pressure and heart rate become elevated, there is increased secretion of hormones and substances that are released with stress as well as increased production of compounds that produce inflammation. These particular hormones that are released when stressed are ghrelin, leptin, and insulin — the hormones responsible for weight gain.

Stress Releases Ghrelin, Leptin, and Insulin

Stress causing weight gain

Within our bodies, ghrelin is the hormone that triggers hunger and leptin is the hormone that informs you that you are full and to stop eating. According to, when we are sleep deprived, research has discovered, our bodies produce more ghrelin. Moreover, it is also that when we’re sleep deprived, we make less leptin.

As for insulin, it is the hormone responsible for triggering the release of leptin and due to sleep deprivation, the body fails to metabolize the insulin needed to release the leptin to keep us from feeling hungry. The body’s failure to process insulin is also what contributes to the onset of diabetes. Unfortunately, in adversely producing more ghrelin and less leptin, you continue to feel hungry and continue to eat and this causes you to gain weight.

Sleep Apnea Solutions

Sadly, suffering from sleep deprivation places you within a detrimental cycle of consistently losing sleep that causes you to gain weight, which in turn worsens the sleep disorder to make you gain even more weight. Fortunately, there are some very useful solutions provided for you to consider to help alleviate or eliminate the symptoms of your sleep disorder. If gaining weight contributes significantly to the development of a sleep disorder and vice versa, then weight loss is surely expected to improve your sleep deprivation.

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According to, sleep apnea patients who lose as little as 5 percent of their body weight can expect to find some relief. Furthermore, also concludes it was found in one study that almost two thirds of apnea patients showed improvement in their symptoms after being placed on a calorie-restricted diet. However, due to the morbid seriousness of sleep deprivation and the prolonged length of time required for immediate weight loss, you can attend a sleep clinic to be evaluated via a sleep study to determine your eligibility to receive a CPAP.

How CPAP Machines works

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure device) is a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth, and gently blows air into the airway to help keep it open during sleep. This device is proven to be very effective at administering the adequate amount of oxygen that is needed by the body in order to properly regulate hormones and inevitably result in weight loss. Other methods to consider for immediate relief of apnea symptoms include the following:

  • The use of dental devices to correctly align the lower jaw and tongue
  • The use of hypoglossal nerve stimulation (device placed in chest to control tongue)
  • Surgery to remove tissue that prohibits breathing
  • Weight loss surgery

It is very critical to refrain from drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes if you are sleep deprived because alcohol caused you to wake up frequently throughout the night and cigarette smoking worsens swelling in the upper airway, making apnea (and snoring) worse.

Seek Attention

Certainly, sleep disorders can be a very dangerous condition to have and shall be considered of the utmost importance to be addressed as soon as possible. They affect so many people both knowingly and unknowingly. If you are one of the millions of people suffering from sleep deprivation, chances are that you have a sleep disorder. Fortunately, with a few lifestyle changes and newly implemented breathing devices made available to help with this disorder, you will soon be well on your way to becoming a much happier and healthier person in being able to sleep peacefully.

Updated 5.12.2018




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