The Dalai Lama once said, “Sleep is the best meditation.” While its meditative quality may be questionable for some, we can all agree that sleep is important. In fact, sleep is one of the fundamental aspects of good health, allowing the body and mind to rejuvenate and repair itself every day.
Can being overweight affect the way we sleep? According to many medical experts, obesity can be directly linked to the chronic sleep disorder, sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder, which affects an estimated 18 million Americans and causes pauses in breathing and shallow breathing. The pauses in breathing can vary in severity, lasting from just a few seconds up to full minutes.
Typically, normal breathing begins again, in some cases with a loud choking or snorting sound. Risk factors associated with sleep apnea include an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, arrhythmias, diabetes, and heart failure.
Increased Weight = Increased Risk
According to the National Sleep Foundation, one of the major causes for the serious disorder is obesity. Margaret Moline, PhD, and Lauren Broch, PhD are two sleep specialists at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. These experts note, that from a medical perspective, added weight causes stress on the respiratory function of the body. “As the person gains weight, especially in the trunk and neck area, the risk of sleep-disordered breathing increases due to compromised respiratory function,” they say.
Further data has shown that more than half of patients with obstructive sleep apnea are either overweight or obese, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 25. Furthermore, the more overweight a person is, the greater their risk of developing sleep apnea is. For each BMI unit increase, a person is 14 percent more likely to develop sleep apnea. Similarly, a 10 percent weight gain increases the risk of developing sleep apnea by six times.
More Sleep Apnea Than Ever
Taking a closer look at the impact of sleep apnea on Americans, a team recently conducted a research study of more than 1,500 Caucasian residents in Wisconsin. The team focused on adults, ages 30 to 70, and monitored them during sleep. Participants who had difficulty breathing 15 or more times an hour while sleeping were considered to have moderate-to-severe breathing problems.
While the study looked at a relatively small group of participants, the author asserts that the findings, which showed a spike in sleep apnea by approximately 55 percent over the past two decades, can be applied to the larger national population. “There are probably 4 million to 5 million people who are more likely to have sleep apnea due to the obesity epidemic,” noted study author Paul Peppard.
What to Do?
With obesity and sleep apnea rates rising, what can be done to treat and prevent this serious disorder? Patients struggling with sleep apnea are commonly treated with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which is a machine that is typically worn as a mask during sleep and blows air into the throat to keep airways open. This can help prevent pauses in breathing and disruptions in sleep, which allows patients to feel well rested in the day.
However, this will not lead to weight loss, but only helps control symptoms. Maintaining healthy weight loss through regular exercise and a balanced diet can decrease added pressure on the body, resulting in fewer respiratory complications and open airways.