Obesity and Sleep Apnea

More than one-third of Americans are now obese according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  Obesity is a risk factor for many medical conditions, and is considered a major risk factor for the development of sleep apnea. Simply put, sleep apnea is a disorder in which one's airway becomes obstructed while asleep, causing loud snoring in less severe cases to a complete cessation of breathing, cardiac arrhythmias and low blood oxygen levels in the most severe cases. The repeated episodes of apnea (lack of breathing) cause frequent nighttime awakening (though the patient is often unaware) with broken, choppy, and sometimes non-restorative sleep. The problem is usually first noticed by the individual's spouse, who is disturbed by the patient's loud snoring.

Individuals with the disorder often complain of morning headaches, constant fatigue, listlessness and moodiness. Obstructive sleep apnea is much more common in obese individuals. It is believed that the airway of the individual becomes obstructed by large tonsils, enlarged tongue and increased fat in the neck, all pressing on the airway when the pharyngeal (throat) muscles are relaxed with sleep. A person's neck circumference is a good indicator of sleep apnea. Obese men with a neck circumference of 17 inches or greater, and obese women with a neck circumference of 16 inches or greater are more likely to have sleep apnea.

Not only does obesity have an association with sleep apnea, but sleep apnea and poor sleep, tends to cause people to eat more. There seems to be a relationship between hunger and satiety hormones and sleep deprivation, though the exact nature of this relationship is unclear. Also, individuals with sleep apnea often have elevated blood pressure, fasting glucose, and high cholesterol, all of which can be made worse with sleep deprivation. Obesity can lead to sleep apnea, which, itself, then causes problems with hormones that control eating habits, leading to more weight gain, worsened blood pressure, glucose intolerance, worsened apnea and a continued unhealthy cycle.

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5 Tips to Sleep Better

Updated: 4/27/18 Research indicates that lack of proper sleep and poor sleep quality can contribute to weight gain and obesity, and slow weight loss while following a diet. The amount you need depends on your age and lifestyle. As few as six hours or as many as 11 hours may be appropriate for some people although most adults need seven to nine hours. 

Try these 5 tips to help you achieve the right amount of sleep.

1. Cut the caffeine!  Stick to 2 cups or less of caffeinated coffee and tea per day.  Even small amounts of caffeine in the afternoon or evening can make it harder to rest when it's time for bed. Keep water near your bed as dehydration is the primary cause of shallow sleep.

2.  Clear your mind!  Have too much on your mind?  Wind down without electronics. Practice meditation, jot down your thoughts in a notebook next to bed, or listen to calming music to put aside your worries from the day.

3.  Get comfortable!  Make your bedroom an ideal place to fall asleep.  Avoid computers, cell phones, and TVs an hour before bed, and dim any night lights.  The bright lights can trick your brain into thinking it's earlier in the day. Take a warm bath or shower.  Make your bed comfortable, get the room temperature how you like it, and relax.

4.  Stick to a schedule!  Set a time to go to bed and wake up each day, and stick to those scheduled times.  Move your alarm clock across the room if you have trouble passing up the snooze button.  This helps get your body's internal clock get on a  healthy routine.

5.  Get active!  Exercise daily - but finish up your workout at least a few hours before bedtime.  Research* has found that regular exercise can improve sleep quality.

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