Obesity + Weight Problems with Sleep Apnoea

April 13th, 2012 by Kath

Scale Word Help Lose Weight Diet Exercise
Update 23rd February 2014 – In light of another new study, resulting in many articles being circulated with titles such as ‘CPAP Cures Sleep Apnoea’ +’Lose Weight Lose Sleep Apnoea’ etc – here’s a link to one of them http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/18/lose-weight-sleep-apnea Also, here’s an infographic on the results of a recent quick questionnaire I carried out about whether CPAP helped people lose weight and whether people got cured of Sleep Apnoea after weight loss.  Only 1% of people did get cured! (Click on the image to see it more clearly).

33% of peoples weight remained the same with just CPAP therapy and NO other lifestyle changes. 24% did lose weight WITH lifestyle changes 9% of people also managed to lose weight with CPAP alone and NO lifestyle changes (this happened to me). Not surprisingly, only just over 1% of people who lost weight managed to cure their Sleep Apnoea (which I strongly suspect is because it was their undiagnosed Sleep Apnoea which actually caused the weight gain - not the other way around). The small percentage who were cured, would have been when weight issues alone were the cause of their Sleep Apnoea.

33% of peoples weight remained the same with just CPAP therapy and NO other lifestyle changes.
24% did lose weight WITH lifestyle changes
9% of people also managed to lose weight with CPAP alone and NO lifestyle changes (this happened to me).
Not surprisingly, only just over 1% of people who lost weight managed to cure their Sleep Apnoea (which I strongly suspect is because it was their undiagnosed Sleep Apnoea which actually caused the weight gain – not the other way around). The small percentage who were cured, would have been when weight issues alone were the cause of their Sleep Apnoea.

Now back to the original blog post………

An article I came across today swayed me into talking about weight issues for my 2nd blog post.  The title of the article was “Getting sleep helped me shift 15 stone in a year.”  You can read the full article, but basically it’s about a lady who got diagnosed for sleep apnoea and once on CPAP she went from being 28 stone and is now a size 12.  There was a similar article just a week or so back about another lady – again who lost 15 stone, but this one had gastric surgery as well as CPAP –Full Article Here.   Neither article says whether these ladies had another sleep study to determine if their sleep apnoea has disappeared, and most people who do are disappointed to find it hasn’t.  Why is this then?  It is my opinion that in most cases people have undiagnosed sleep apnoea from a young age and they gain weight due to their sleep-deprived bodies needing extra energy, which they naturally seek in high calorie food and drink, as well as coffee of course.  I have lost count of the amount of customers who tell me they snored when they were slim.  Of course, sleep apnoea symptoms get worse with the more weight that is piled on, but it really is a vicious circle.  I can trace my sleep apnoea back to when I was a teenager (if not earlier, when I remember the times as a young girl I would wake up feeling I was suffocating).  I’m certain that the only reason I didn’t get obese is because I continuously fought the urge to eat all these wrong foods as I knew how easy it was for me to gain pounds (unfortunately not the kind of pounds I could spend – the ones that cause us to have to keep buying new bigger clothes 😀 .  Incidentally, during my first year of CPAP, I joined a slimming class (Slimming World) and 2 stone literally fell off me, thus for the first time since being a teenager I was able to get back into size 12 clothes again 🙂  I have spoken to many people who expect that once they are on CPAP the weight will just fall off.  Whilst in rare cases this can be true and certainly a fair amount often does, most people experience weight loss when they use their CPAP and make a conscious effort to lose weight – only now they’re getting good safe sleep they find the weight shifts easier!

Another big factor for not being able to shed weight easily when having undiagnosed sleep apnoea is the fact that during REM sleep our bodies burn up many more calories than at any other sleep stage, and bearing in mind that sleep apnoea sufferers are constantly being kicked out of REM sleep when they experience apnoea events, these calories don’t get burnt up!  An excellent article of why sleep deprivation causes weight gain is here…. ‘How Does Sleep Deprivation Cause Weight Gain?’  In actual fact Michael Breus, PhD (also known as ‘The Sleep Doctor’) has written a whole book on this which you can get on Amazon:-

Now I’m not implying that people can’t bring on sleep apnoea themselves through piling on weight for whatever reason, and perhaps it’s these people who can get cured of sleep apnoea when it’s caused through weight issues alone.  However, most sleep apnoea is caused by craniofacial issues (and made worse through weight gain), such as receding jaw, large tongue base, large soft palate, enlarged uvula, large tonsils etc., and then the weight creeps on due to sleep deprivation from the untreated sleep apnoea.

In another article, Lisa Shives, MD and founder of the Northshore Sleep Medicine centre in Illinois states “The classic paediatric sleep apnea patient is a skinny 6-year-old with chronic congestion and dark circles under his eyes.” so perhaps as people are becoming more aware of sleep apnoea and people get diagnosed earlier in life, as well as living healthier lives with treated sleep apnoea, then a lot of obesity problems will become rarer too.

What do you think came first……the Chicken or the Egg?



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40 Responses to “Obesity + Weight Problems with Sleep Apnoea”

  1. Mary says:

    Thanks for this excellent article Kath which has helped me so much. I’ve always felt so guilty for being so fat even though I’ve always tried my best not to put weight on. I cannot tell you how many different slimming classes I joined over the years, and whilst I did manage to shed weight it never stayed off. Now I am on CPAP my weight has been much easier to shift, but I still have a long way to go. I’ve been on CPAP for about a year + managed to lose 3 stone up to now. Still need to lose another 3 though but am feeling like I dare sign up to the gym now. I wish my family + friends could read stories like this, then they might discover it wasn’t all my fault for ending up so over-weight. Thanks again 🙂

    • Kath says:

      Great to hear your positive comments on how you’ve already been able to lose weight now you’re on CPAP. Losing 10% of your body weight can bring down your apnoeas by 25% too. Do bear in mind, that as you continue to lose weight your CPAP pressures may need adjusting.

  2. Diane MacLean says:

    Hi, I am the lady in question and yes it is true I have lost over 15 stones in weight without any bariatric surgery. I did suffer from OSA which I used C-PAP for. I have had a second sleep study done which showed that I no longer have OSA or in fact any sleep disturbances at all, not even a wee snore! I put this solely down to the fact I have lost weight. Oh and I’m not a size 12 I am a size 14 but I will be a size 12 when I have lost a little more weight!


    • Kath says:

      Firstly, Diane – WELL DONE on your amazing achievement and secondly, thanks for taking the time to give us the facts direct from the person herself, rather than a newspaper article. I’ve re-read the articles, and it was the other lady who’d got to a size 12 (but like you said, that will be you soon LOL). I’m so pleased to hear you’ve had another sleep study confirming you no longer have OSA, which proves that your OSA was solely caused through the weight. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case for everyone. However, one of the ladies on our forum who lost 10 stone has managed to come off her CPAP too http://hope2sleepguide.co.uk/forum/topics/happy-new-year-1?commentId=6381638%3AComment%3A18311

      You are a true inspiration to others Diane, and good luck with the remaining lbs!

      • Diane MacLean says:

        Thank you. I really hope that what I have achieved can give hope to others as I have been one of those people who has struggled for years with weight issues. I never believed I would ever be able to lose the weight I have. It proves that it can be done, I really was a lost cause, on the bariatric rubbish heap, hoping for a gastric band or some other surgery to help me, but, I found my motivation and the rest followed. I am positive that using c-pap helped as my energy levels were immediately higher from the first nights use.


        • Kath says:

          Your brave decision to go public will definitely be giving hope to many many people Diane. Losing weight is one of the hardest things people can do when sleep deprived (as you know). Armed with CPAP and the right mindset, you have proved that CPAP can actually be a temporary measure when weight is the sole cause of OSA.

          I also read in the article you are a mental health nurse, and my next blog post is going to be about depression/anxiety. You are obviously in a great position on a daily basis at work to spot the signs of OSA in your patients 🙂 My GP used to continuously ask me if I was sleeping well, and I assured him I was – little realizing I was stopping breathing every 2 minutes!

          Thanks again for dropping by with your comments, and my best wishes to you.

        • Cristhie says:

          OMG I have that too, it’s terrible, it dibturss sleep and you feel sometimes that you can’t breathe when you wake up. Most of the time believe it or not it comes from your sinuses, you collect all that goopy glop that slides down your sinus to your throat, at the base of the throat and you think you’re choaking to death I sympathize with you, I wish I knew what to do. The ENT said it was acid reflux and put me on nexium that helped..NOT!!!! They wanted to put me in a sleep study too, but I haven’t found the time .

          • Kath says:

            Christhie, please find the time to undergo a sleep study and untreated sleep apnoea can be dangerous to your health, but with treatment physical, mental and emotional health will improve.

  3. Mary says:

    You have already given hope to me Diane and since my comment 9 days ago I’ve managed to lose another 4lbs, so now it’s 3stone + 4 whole pounds 😀 I’m not sure if I’ll be as lucky as you in curing my sleep apnea as I snored even when I was thin + used to keep my sister awake when we shared a bedroom. Like I said I still have a long way to go – need to shed about another 3 stone, but I now know it can be done if I keep faithful to my CPAP. You are my inspiration so thnx for that!

  4. Roz says:

    well done all who have managed to battle weight and battle with using CPAP.
    I have only been using it since 20th Jan, so thats exactly 4 months today. I did start to loose weight from the beginning of December and managed just under 1 stone, but unfortunately (I know I am making excuses here) anxiety and depression has made me pile a few pounds back on. Things are now under control again with the CPAP and my AHI reading have gone down from 62 to currently 3…. it took a while to find a comfortable (non leaking) mask. I’m now using the Philips Respironics New True Blue Mask and so far so good.
    You were right about that one Kath. You said when you first saw it on your visit to Philips. It certainly is such an improvement, you can move freely without the noise of leaks! So now once i can get comfortable again i will be able to concentrate on the weight loss again….and may be heading towards getting rid of the tranquillisers! They don’t help the weight issue!
    keep up the great work with the blog Kath… i’ve linked it to my FB xx

    • Kath says:

      That’s interesting Roz, to hear you managed to lose a stone BEFORE going on CPAP. I know you had your struggles at the beginning from your posts over on the Forum (http://www.hope2sleepguide.com)and, hopefully, now you’re getting stuck into good treatment, the lb’s will melt away.

      Also, as you head towards cutting down on the tranquillisers, you may find that your CPAP pressures can be lowered, as the tranquillisers themselves usually make the sleep apnoea worse. Good luck with that 🙂

  5. Kath says:

    Just been reading another blog, with interesting comments and explanations of losing weight with CPAP, left by a supervisor of 2 sleep centres http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleeping-angels/201205/losing-weight-because-cpap/comments#comment-231670

  6. Rob says:

    I never knew these facts, thanks for pointing them out. I know a guy who has it so bad that in meetings he falls asleep and suffocates and wakes up. Hence we had to take him out of meetings. He doesnt want any help.. very sad.

  7. Roslyn says:

    Not sure what losing a stone is & I don’t have sleep apnea but I do have excess pounds. I’ve been trimming down & my sleep is more solid. I wake up feeling rested. Yeah. Thanks for your info.

  8. This is an excellent article relating weight gain to sleep apnea. When I was at my heaviest I snored like a freight train and scared my husband to death when I stopped breathing. After tuning up my body using Protandim and losing 54 pounds I no longer snore, I have stopped “stop breathing” and my night’s sleep is deep, restful and I wake with energy galore. I guess when our body gets what it needs to operate properly it functions properly. I hope everyone finds what works for them and gets the incredible sleep and health I’ve found.

    • Kath says:

      That’s excellent news Carla, and seems your snoring and apnoeas were solely caused by your weight. This is exactly the message I was trying to convey (which came first, the chicken or the egg?). Whilst for most people it’s the untreated sleep apnoea causing the weight gain, in cases like yours it’s the opposite way round and well done for losing all that weight! I bet you feel so much healthier now too 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing such an informative post, Kath. I didn’t know about the connection between weight loss and sleep apnoea.

  10. Diane Baker says:

    Excellent blog Kath. I didn’t experience any weight loss when I went onto CPAP which was a little disappointing – but what I did experience was energy, bags of it, energy where before I had none. That energy has now been put into exercise which has brought down my weight, which in turn is making me feel even better. I don’t think CPAP brings about weightloss, but it gives us our lives back – stops us from walking around in a stupor. Like you Kath I have snored for as long as I can remember – and like you I was a size 10 / 12 when I was younger. I tend to agree with you that weight is a symptom rather than the cause of Sleep Apnoea

    • Kath says:

      It’s strange Diane how going onto CPAP affects us all differently. There are some people who simply lose weight when they go onto therapy without doing anything differently, but for most people they have to put effort in to lose it. What usually does happen though is these people find the weight shifts easier (like I did when I joined Slimming World). It’s fantastic seeing what you’ve achieved on your Facebook profile by now having the energy to take on all that exercise you’re doing. Your body will really be thanking your for this 😉

  11. Great advice. I knew about sleep apnea affecting weight but never thought about lack of sleep as the same thing. Learned something new today. Thanks!

  12. Sharon O'Day says:

    This is fascinating, Kath, especially the part about limited REM and difficulty losing weight — because of sleep apnoea. I have friends who use their CPAPs and now I understand a little more about what they are going through. Thanks!

    • Kath says:

      Glad you found it interesting and knowledgeable Sharon 🙂 So often people are told to go home and lose weight to cure themselves. Firstly, most peoples sleep apnoea isn’t caused by their weight (it’s more common the other way around) and secondly, they don’t stand a good chance in losing weight until they get quality REM sleep for which they need CPAP or other therapy, which is when losing weight becomes so much easier.

  13. Dawn Lanier says:

    I had no idea there was a connection between sleep apnea and obesity. Learned something new – thanks!

    • Kath says:

      Yes, there’s a big link Dawn, and it wasn’t too long ago that it was though only obese people were sufferers of sleep apnoea. We now know this is NOT the case as is it mainly due to craniofacial issues, such as large tongue base, large soft palate, receding jaw, large uvula, large tonsils etc.

  14. Lorii Abela says:

    Informative post! There is indeed nothing as precious as being able to sleep well. What do you think is the best way to lose weight?

    • Kath says:

      Yes, good sleep is the way forward Lorii for our whole being – weight, energy, emotions and general health. I’m no expert on losing weight, but I do know that when good sleep is achieved then people stand a much better chance of shedding the weight. For me it’s a healthy diet, daily exercise and drinking plenty of water.

  15. Nancy Graham says:

    Oh my gosh, the issue of weight and Sleep Apnea is so frustrating to me. When I was first diagnosed with Sleep Apnea, I was underweight for my height, yet the doctor who evaluated my sleep study wrote in his report that losing weight would improve my condition. I think he must have had that in there as a comment he included in reports for every patient with the assumption that all Sleep Apnea patients are overweight. Not so. Just not so.

    I have gained weight since that initial diagnosis. It’s clear to me that I have gained weight because the surgery I had and the CPAP treatment I use every single night has not been and is still not effective. I continue to experience an AHI between 8 and 20 every night. In spite of that, there is nothing else my doctors feel they can do and my health insurance seems to think that it’s OK for me to continue as I am. Oh when will the health community do something to help us?

    • Kath says:

      I hear your frustration Nancy, as well as the fact that medics still continue to blame the weight, which is not often the case, but rather the symptom of untreated sleep apnoea. If you’re still having an AHI of between 8-20 this doesn’t sound like the therapy is at it’s best. If you use Facebook at all you’re welcome to come and join us in the private group https://www.facebook.com/groups/SleepApnoeaSupportAndAwareness/ where others have experienced this. Sometimes it can be a simple case of an adjustment in pressure or a different kind of machine (like BiPAP or ASV). I do hope you can find a way for your sleep apnoea to be better managed.

  16. Kim says:

    My word…what an eye opener this has been!!! I am obese and was diagnosed with sleep apnoea around 6 years ago…..I have piled more weight on. I have just realised after reading these comments I need to go back to have my cpap mask checked as I struggle with masks. But lately I am having a more disturbed sleep and I am tired through the day. Thanks Kath for giving me this link…very helpful to know I am not on my own !!

    • Kath says:

      Glad to have been able to share it with you Kim and definitely get help from your clinic. Get them to check that you’re on the correct pressure too and mention your daytime tiredness, which is a sign that your CPAP might need adjusting. When people are on the correct pressure it’s unusual to pile more weight on, unless they’re over-eating of course. Most people find that with good therapy AND making a conscious effort to lose weight then they usually get great results 🙂

  17. Jorja says:

    Hi. I was slim most of my life and walked, did Taebo, Zumba and lifted weights. Over a period of a few years I gained about 20 lbs. for no apparent reason and got more and more tired. I finally told my Dr. I was so tired I was having trouble getting up in the morning. She sent me for an at-home sleep apnea test. Imagine my surprise when it came back positive for moderate (15) sleep apnea. Unfortunately mine is mostly central sleep apnea so I can’t be treated without having an overnight sleep study to determine the cause and treatment. I’ve been waiting almost 11 months now and I am hoping for a call any day. I am also hoping treatment will bring back my energy so I can exercise again and lose weight! I firmly believe the sleep apnea caused the weight gain.

    • Kath says:

      Your story is typical Jorja of someone who has lived with undiagnosed sleep apnoea and gained weight. It’s why I wish the doc’s would stop automatically blaming weight for the problem, making the person feel as if they’re to blame! Sorry to hear you’ve been waiting 11 months now for your investigations and hope that appointment comes soon. I’m sure once you get on therapy everything will start to improve for you 🙂

  18. David says:

    There seems to be a lot of logic in the weight S A relationship.

    My weight has increased since arthritis limited my exercise , but as you say there is a vicious circle of colorie need.. Food for thought.

  19. Can Sleep Apnea Cause You To Gain Weight? says:

    […] you use a CPAP device and cure your sleep apnea if there is a biological causal relationship. The evidence doesn’t entirely confirm this result, however. A study carried out amongst sleep apnea sufferers across the world largely found little […]

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