The Real Link Between CPAP and Weight Loss

sleep apnea and weight
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    Updated February 20, 2019

     

    Medically Reviewed by Dr. Daniel Barone

    If you are wondering if using a CPAP and losing weight are linked, you are not alone. Weight loss is a topic that is of interest to both CPAP users and sleep professionals. In this article, we’ll explore how Obstructive Sleep Apnea can have an impact on your weight, as well as the link some studies have found between CPAP therapy and weight loss.

    CPAP therapy is a treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and stands for “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure”. A CPAP Machine is a medical device used to gently pressurize the outside air and deliver it to your airway via the mouth or nose. It works by using this pressurized air to open the airway, which becomes blocked during sleep in patients that have OSA. CPAP therapy is the most common form of treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

    Who is at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

    More than 18 million American adults have Sleep Apnea1, which increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and diabetes.

    In some studies, Obstructive Sleep Apnea has been found to show up at a higher rate in people who are overweight, but OSA can affect anyone and at any age. Typically the risk of developing Sleep Apnea increases as you get older and men are generally more likely to be afflicted.

    How Are Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain Linked?

    The link between Sleep Apnea and weight gain is not one of causality, that is to say: Sleep Apnea does not cause weight gain and, by the same token, weight loss does not ‘cure’ Sleep Apnea.

    However, Obstructive Sleep Apnea does reduce the amount of restful sleep a person gets every night, and some research2 studies have shown a link between insufficient sleep and weight gain. This link has been explained by the discovery that lack of sleep affects two key hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite and caloric intake.3

    Low levels of leptin, which tells your brain your body doesn’t need to eat, and high levels of ghrelin, a hormone that sends signals to the brain that you’re hungry and need to eat, have been shown in those with Sleep Apnea.

    The issue of the relationship between Sleep Apnea and body weight is one that continues to be studied4 and more research is required to determine how other external factors, such as physical activity, diet, gender, ethnicity, age, etc. influence this relationship.

    Does Weight Loss Cure Sleep Apnea?

    As mentioned, Sleep Apnea and weight do not have a direct causal link. So, while losing a significant amount of weight has helped in reducing the symptoms of Sleep Apnea for some people, the answer truly depends on individual circumstances.

    It is good to note that the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends weight loss be part of the overall treatment of Sleep Apnea for people who are overweight, along with CPAP therapy 5.

    Can CPAP Therapy Help You Lose Weight?

    If losing weight is a particular goal of yours, being compliant with your CPAP therapy could help with that. Research published4 in The European Respiratory Journal shows that using a CPAP helps regulate the body’s production of appetite-influencing hormones ghrelin and leptin. Experts do emphasize that regular use of CPAP when sleeping and napping is important to treat Sleep Apnea and regulate these hormones.

    In addition, using your CPAP regularly for Sleep Apnea treatment can have many overall benefits that could contribute to weight loss.

    Here are a few improvements you can expect with regular CPAP therapy:

    • Increase in energy
    • Improved mood and mental health
    • Improve quality of sleep

    These improvements may then increase one’s ability to exercise and engage in physical activity, which tends to be a contributing factor to losing weight .

    exercise and sleep apnea

    As a successful CPAP user myself, I can honestly say that as my AHI goes down, my energy level increases dramatically. This boost in energy makes a huge difference in how I feel. For nights where your AHI is high, you’ll notice that you feel less energetic, more lethargic, and you won’t feel like doing much. If you’re using your CPAP machine regularly, and it’s working properly, you could notice a big difference and extra energy.

    Did you know that there are oral exercises you can do to improve your Sleep Apnea treatment? These exercises strengthen the muscles of the mouth and throat, and have been found to be a great companion to CPAP therapy!

    Now, oral exercises are not a substitute for CPAP therapy. It’s not a cure or it’s not the end all be all answer to your problems, but it’s fascinating stuff!!

    CPAP Has Also Been Shown to be Linked to Weight Gain

    Something to also be aware of is the meta-analysis5 that was done on randomized trials to find the effects of body weight and CPAP therapy on Obstructive Sleep Apnea patients.

    The study looked at age, gender, BMI, baseline weight, OSA severity and more, to determine the impact Obstructive Sleep Apnea treatment with a CPAP had on weight. Their conclusions were that OSA treatment with CPAP promotes a significant increase in BMI and weight.

    A couple of reasons this may happen is because the treatment for Sleep Apnea6 may decrease the effort used for breathing during sleep thereby decreasing the amount of energy (calories) being burned while sleeping. Another reason is that changes in quality of sleep could also lead to changes in appetite and eating habits.

    Let’s face it! Sleep is a complex thing, and a lot of different factors go into it. If you notice you’re gaining weight while using your CPAP machine, it’s something to take note of and if it concerns you, you should discuss with your doctor.

    OSA is a condition that can be brought on by several factors, and treatment with CPAP, while it can be completely effective, is best when combined with an overall healthier lifestyle. The right quality and quantity of sleep, diet, exercise, not smoking, and taking care of yourself is always the right way to go.

    –Dr. Barone

    Living with sleep apnea isn’t just about CPAP therapy, it’s also about taking care of your health as Doctor Barone has said.

    You’ll feel much better about CPAP therapy if you also take care of yourself!

    Live long and Prosper!

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    More About Dr. Barone:

    Dr. Daniel Barone received his medical degree from New York Medical College in 2006 after graduating summa cum laude from Fordham University in 2001. He completed an internship in Internal Medicine at Saint Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in 2007 and a residency in Neurology at Beth Israel Medical Center in 2010. He then went on to complete a fellowship in Sleep Disorders at Stony Brook University Medical Center in 2011.

    Dr. Barone is currently the Associate Medical Director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine and an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College and an Attending Neurologist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He specializes in the evaluation and management of patients with all forms of sleep disorders including sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, and narcolepsy. He is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in Both Neurology and Sleep Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

    Dr. Barone is the first author of multiple peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in sleep medicine, and has appeared in several media pieces. His first book, “Let’s Talk About Sleep,” was published in January, 2018, by Rowman & Littlefield.

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    References:

    1. American College of Physicians. American College of Physicians Releases New Recommendations for Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea Published by the American College of Physicians on September 24, 2013. Accessed on September 7, 2018.

    2. Harvard University Sleep Health Official Website. Sleep and Health. Published on Harvard University’s official sleep health site, on January 16, 2008. Accessed September 7, 2018.

    3. Koebnick, C, et. al. Leptin and Ghrelin Levels in Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Effect of CPAP Treatment. Published in the European Respiratory Journal on August 22, 2003. Accessed on September 7, 2018.

    4. Gleason, Kevin J. Sleep Apnea and Body Weight Published on the website myapnea.org in May of 2015. Accessed on September 7, 2018.

    5. Watson, Stephanie. Weight Loss, Breathing Devices Still Best for Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Published by the Harvard University School of Medicine on October 29, 2015. Accessed on September 7, 2018.

    5. Drager, LF, et. al. Effects of CPAP on Body Weight in Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials Published in the medical journal Thorax on March 7, 2015. Accessed on September 7, 2018.