Australian study shows direct link between weight and Sleep Apnoea severity

A study by a sleep clinic in Newcastle has shown that the severity of their patients' sleep apnoea was directly linked to their weight. After examining 20 years of records it became clear that as their patients gained weight and increased their BMI, the frequency of their apnoeas increased.

There has long been a link between sleep apnoea and being overweight, but it is interesting to find a study that shows the link between the two so directly. On average men put on 10kg and women 12kg from when they first visited the clinic, but while no specific reason was named for why they put on the weight, the increase in the severity of their sleep apnoea was a clear consequence.

Weight and Sleep Apnoea are closely linked

"As body weight goes up, Sleep Apnoea gets worse"

Dr Jeffry Pretto, who did the analysis of the clinic's data, said: “How many times each hour people actually stop breathing, or slow their breathing down significantly - that marker is very much linked to body mass index. As people's body weight goes up, the severity of their sleep apnoea gets worse. The other interesting finding is the instance of severe obesity - that is if they have a body mass index of over 40. Back in 1987, only 3 per cent of people that were referred to us for sleep studies we'd classify as having morbid obesity. In 2007, that went up to 15 per cent. It's gone up by a factor of five."

Without successful treatment for sleep apnoea it can become a vicious cycle. Sleep apnoea makes you tired during the day, giving you less energy to be active and do exercise. This leads to you gaining weight, increasing the severity of your apnoea, making you even more lethargic. The cycle goes on and on. Some people also blame increase carbohydrate cravings on tiredness, which leads to weight increase.

To break the cycle, you first need to get treatment for your sleep apnoea. CPAP therapy, the most successful and widely-adopted treatment for sleep apnoea, will alleviate or greatly reduce the frequency of apnoeas, giving you the energy and enthusiasm during the day to allow you to be more active and to exercise.

From there, the circle repeats itself in the opposite direction, more energy, more exercise, lose weight, fewer apnoeas, more energy, etc. It takes determination, will power and patience, but by losing weight you can reduce the severity of your sleep apnoea and, in some cases, alleviate it completely.

Lifestyle changes are difficult - but not impossible

While easier said then done, if you are suffering from sleep apnoea then it is important to try to at least maintain your current body weight if possible, and ideally look to gradually lose weight. One of the major problems with sleep apnoea is that it usually gets diagnosed very late, on average after around seven years of suffering, by which time most people are over 40 and a change of lifestyle becomes very difficult to implement.

One of our forum members, scourserpaul, has just started using the Atkins Diet to reduce his weight. You can follow his progress in his Sleep Apnea And Dieting thread.

Losing weight when you have sleep apnoea is far from easy, but it gets easier as you go along as the positive cycle mentioned earlier begins to take effect. The health benefits are not only confined to reduced sleep apnoea, so it is certainly worth making a concerted effort towards.

2 thoughts on “Australian study shows direct link between weight and Sleep Apnoea severity”

  • scouserpaul

    thanks for the link tom, read the post and was imformative altho dont u agree that "gaining more weight will lead to more sleep apneas" is pretty obvious, more weight on neck and organs will lead to more apneas obvs. if we end up with more chins than a chinese phone book our windpipes pay for it.

    to me the revelent point is that before cpap i tried and tried to lose the weight i was gaining but was gutted as i got nowhere, yes my fatigue was awful but i didnt want to let it beat me.. its a fight all of us with osa are in, and only us living it can truelly say how it feels.. we have to offer our experiences for the future, we live it every day (never forget sleep depravation is used for torture)

    i'm still in early stages of cpap and fatigue to me hasnt changed but almost immediatly the weight dropped off, i think my body wants some payback and will take a while tired wise, but i still feel different i have no doubt cpap is working even if i am struggling with it at mo...

    once we are diagnosed i think the good thing we have is the internet, we can google and know more about osa than our gp's... like anything else tho its cutting the wheat from the chaff and learning what is right and what is wrong..

    I have read several reports on the fact that untreated sleep apnea causes insulin spikes, this without a doubt causes weight gain, so to me it makes sense that the main point is that if "sleep apnea causes weight gain" and "weight gain causes sleep apnea" then its a vicious circle, to most users cpap takes away the "sleep apnea causes weight gain"... it puts u on a playing field u can cope with and begin to deal with ....

    so why low carb diet? ... well i never needed to diet before and infact still dont agree with dieting its about lifestyle changes that matter.. never really had to diet before so i googled like mad, and i came to the conclusion that low calorie diets make ur body go into starvation mode and begin to shut down needing less calories to cope, so when u give up and eat normal u put more weight on... looked at G.I. diet etc and other carb restricting diets, and i may move on too one of them one day but i wanted it now and atkins i chose..

    for me for the first time in 30 years my pancreas has a break my body is resetting and burning fat, not fat causing carbs and with cpap i'm seeing the benefits come on u lot lets get our lifes back and pass on our gained knowledge not go quietly into the night...

    i'm 5 minutes into this and would welcome anyones contribution, i'm sure some old timers with osa have the tee shirt any feedback would be welcome ...

    regards paul ....

  • henk

    This article starts with: "the increase in the severity of their sleep apnoea was a clear consequence (of the weight gain)". It should be the other way around: "the weight gain is a clear consequence of the sleep apneu". It is now well known from ezperiences (thanks all the fora) that after starting CPAP hypertensive persons will have a dramatic lowering in their blood presure (>20 mmHg). But.. They will gain waight when they start on CPAP. So there is only one conclusion possible: not the weight, but the apneu causes the hypertensia. In the same manner: weight gain is a symptom of sleep apneu, not the other way around.

    It is very sad that pysicians do not understand the difference between cause, effect and correlation.

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