In obese people, fat deposits in the upper respiratory tract make the airway narrow, leading to a decrease in muscle activity in this region and, ultimately, apneic and hypoxic episodes – thus, sleep apnea. These episodes lead to an oxygen decrease in both blood vessels and body tissues, and this decreased oxygenation is a contributor to tissue hypoxia, the primary aggressor of atherosclerosis.
Now, sleep apnea is a relatively common problem in which people experience disrupted breathing while sleeping, but when it comes to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – which is the most common type – disruptive breathing is a result of a narrow or blocked upper airway. Many medical professionals describe the ailment as trying to breathe through a straw, with severe cases experiencing upwards of 30 breathing disruptions per evening.
To say that this does not sound like a day at the beach is something of a gross understatement.
Making matters worse is when obesity comes into the picture, as several important connections to excess body weight have been emerging via studies we have looked at. According to our research, not only can excess weight cause sleep apnea, but it can make the symptoms worse while exacerbating any detrimental health effects that you may be experiencing.
Why It Seems Like an Endless Cycle
What makes all this even more frustrating is the proverbial revolving door many patients feel they are in with regard to all this; insufficient sleep may also lead to weight gain, adding to the vicious cycle, though, encouragingly, studies show that weight loss improves sleep apnea.
If you are struggling with sleep apnea or excess weight, it’s important to understand the sometimes complex relationship between the two conditions.
How it Occurs: Getting to the Heart of the Problem
Being that this blog is supposed to focus on how weight actually affects obstructive sleep apnea, let’s now take a look at that specific subject. As we alluded to above, excess weight creates fat deposits in our necks called pharyngeal fat, which can block your upper airway during sleep when the airway is supposed to be in a state of relaxation.
Sweet Sleep Studio Fact Corner: This is precisely why snoring remains one of the most common sleep apnea symptoms, as air is literally being squeezed through a restricted airway, resulting in the super-annoying noise snoring sufferers make.
What’s more, increased abdominal girth from excess fat can compress the wall of the chest, decreasing lung capacity, which in turn diminishes airflow – making the upper airway more susceptible to collapse during sleep. According to research we have studied, OSA risk continues to increase in direct correlation to a rising body mass index (BMI), which measures human body fat based on height and weight.
Sweet Sleep Studio Fact Corner: A mere 10-percent weight gain is associated with a six-fold increase in OSA risk.
Even though roughly 60 to 90-percent of adults with OSA are overweight, some other less common causes of sleep apnea can include:
- Enlarged tonsils that block the airway
- Anatomical features such as a large neck or narrow throat
- Endocrine disorders (including diabetes and thyroid disease)
- Lung afflictions
- Heart problems
When it’s time to switch to a healthy lifestyle, call Sweet Sleep Studio at (913) 309-5963. We can guide you through all the pitfalls you should be avoiding as you stay on your path to better health and better sleep.