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Sleep apnea: Losing weight, the key to finally sleeping better

Most research has shown that maintaining a moderate weight is linked to an improvement in sleep apnea. In fact, the link is so strong that many doctors recommend that people with sleep apnea maintain a moderate weight. The information above comes from a 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

People with sleep apnea periodically stop breathing while they sleep. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when something blocks the airway. About 41% of obstructive sleep apnea cases in adults are related to being overweight. This may be because excess soft tissue, such as fat from the tongue, in the airway can cause blockages. Here’s how a person’s weight affects sleep apnea, how and when people should try to lose weight, and other treatment options.

How weight affects sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea involves partial or complete collapse of the airways, reducing oxygen levels and disrupting sleep. It occurs due to two factors that affect the airways: insufficient space for airflow and low muscle tone. People with obesity may experience one or both of these problems. They may have fatty deposits in their upper airways, which narrows the airways and makes it hard to breathe. Too little muscle activity can also reduce muscle tone. Research has shown a direct relationship between weight and sleep apnea. An 11-year prospective cohort study, conducted in 2000, showed that weight changes were related to changes in sleep-disordered breathing.

Weight loss and sleep apnea.

Many investigations have shown a relationship between weight and sleep apnea, but have not found the reason. The 2019 research looked at the exact mechanism underlying how weight loss relieves sleep apnea. It revealed that losing weight led to a reduction in fat in the abdomen and tongue. It also reduced the size of the soft tissues in the upper airways.
However, the authors determined that decreased tongue fat was the main factor in reducing sleep apnea symptoms.

It’s also important to note that the degree of weight loss may be proportional to changes in your sleep apnea. Despite this, research strongly recommends weight loss for all people with sleep apnea, regardless of severity or adherence to other treatments.

Other treatment options

In addition to advising maintaining a moderate weight and other lifestyle changes, such as exercising and quitting smoking when appropriate, a doctor may prescribe one of the following treatments:

– Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)

The most effective sleep apnea treatment according to the trusted source is the use of CPAP. A CPAP machine provides constant air pressure to keep your airways open.
Regular nightly use can cause symptoms to almost completely disappear.

– Oral appliances

These are custom-made devices that a person can wear in the mouth while sleeping to keep the upper airway open. They reposition the jaw or keep the tongue forward.

– Oral and facial muscle therapy

Exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles of the mouth and face can be helpful. In addition to strengthening all the muscles in the area, they improve the position of the tongue.

Risks and considerations

Although doctors advise people with sleep apnea to maintain a moderate weight, it is important to do so carefully and safely. Losing weight can be difficult and is a long-term process that involves small, long-lasting lifestyle changes.

Get expert dietary advice

One should contact a doctor before starting any new diet, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.

Avoid crash or overly restrictive diets

Doctors don’t recommend fad diets or crash diets that severely restrict calories or skip meals. Instead, they advise setting a modest goal of losing 1-2 pounds per week.

Choose a nutritious diet

It may be a good idea to try a nutritious, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. Since drastically changing a person’s diet overnight is unrealistic, experts generally recommend making small, incremental changes. This can include adding an extra serving of vegetables each day, replacing white carbs with whole grains, and making an effort to get enough protein. Over time, these small changes can produce lasting results.

Here are some common questions and answers about sleep apnea and weight loss.

Can maintaining a moderate weight cure my sleep apnea?

It depends. An ongoing clinical trial indicates that early weight loss can cure mild sleep apnea. Other research indicates that weight loss can often reduce the severity of a person’s sleep apnea, but it does not, on its own, cure the condition.

Is it more difficult for people with sleep apnea to lose weight?

According to an earlier study from 2014, sleep apnea can predispose a person to obesity. This is because reduced sleep quality is linked to higher rates of weight gain.

How much weight should I lose?

There is no single answer. Although a loss of 5 to 10% of body weight may be beneficial, a doctor may recommend a different amount based on a person’s starting weight and concurrent conditions.


There is a clear link between sleep apnea and excess weight. Most doctors advise people with sleep apnea to maintain a moderate weight, and in many cases, this can improve your symptoms. However, before starting a weight loss program, it’s best to talk to a doctor first. Health professionals can suggest a safe and healthy weight loss program and provide personalized recommendations that take into account a person’s other health concerns. Along with weight loss, doctors can recommend the most effective treatment.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information provided can not replace the advice of a health professional.

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