Losing weight may help overweight individuals sleep better by improving and potentially eliminating sleep apnea symptoms. Although doctors have long advised overweight people with sleep apnea to lose at least 10% of their body weight to improve their condition, there has been little research to back up that advice.
Sleep apnea is most common in overweight and obese people and is theorized to be due to a disturbance of the autonomic nervous system that influences our basic organ function. Sleep apnea causes loud snoring and sleep disruptions as a result of the airway becoming temporarily blocked during sleep. If untreated, sleep apnea can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.
Researchers found that people with severe sleep apnea who lost the recommended amount of weight were three times more likely to experience a complete remission of sleep apnea symptoms compared with people who didn’t lose weight.
After one year, the weight loss group lost an average of 24 pounds (approximately 10% of their body weight on average). Those in the weight loss group were three times as likely to experience a remission of their sleep apnea symptoms.
There is a growing amount of evidence that sleep apnea is actually a result of autonomic neurological dysfunction that often accompanies obesity and not to increased fat mass. Limiting carbohydrate intake may be the most effective means to lose weight as well as reverse the underlying autonomic dysfunction that leads to sleep apnea.