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Does Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Gain?

By Miriam Dorisca
Medically Reviewed by Lisa Shives, MD, FAASM on August 30, 2021
Sleep apnea is a disorder that can impact both your sleep and your weight. Learn more about how the condition can cause changes in your body.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that causes breathing to start and stop repeatedly during sleep. Mayo Clinic notes that the most common type of the disorder—obstructive sleep apnea—occurs when the muscles in the back of your neck relax in a way that constricts your airway and reduces oxygen intake, resulting in sleep interruptions. But sleep apnea doesn’t only disturb your sleep cycle. It can also impact your ability to maintain a healthy weight.

What’s the Link Between Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain?

Excessive body weight is a risk factor that increases the possibility of being diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, according to Mayo Clinic. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute also reports that an unhealthy diet and the absence of an exercise routine can contribute to obesity, which can subsequently cause sleep apnea. 

So, being overweight can contribute to the development of sleep apnea, but what about weight gain after a diagnosis?

One factor that can lead to weight gain with sleep apnea is the way the condition affects overall energy levels. 

“The sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea takes you from deep sleep to light sleep continuously throughout the night,” Cliff Molin, MD, an Internal Medicine Specialist based in Las Vegas, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“With sleep apnea, even though you may feel like you have had a good night’s sleep, chances are you haven’t. The continual sleep disruptions lead to fatigue. As a result, the fatigue leads to a lack of motivation to exercise, which can lead to weight gain,” Molin explains. 

Additionally, hormone imbalances associated with sleep apnea can change your appetite patterns and thereby cause changes to a healthy weight

“Sleep apnea can also cause the hormones that cause hunger to fluctuate, which can make a person feel more hungry than they usually would,” Anthony Puopolo, a board-certified physician and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at LifeMD, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“The body mainly manages hunger through the hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is responsible for the hunger sensation and tells the body when it's time to eat. Too much of this hormone means eating more often, which can lead to weight gain. Leptin tells the body when it's full. Too little of this hormone can cause a person to eat more than they normally would,” Puopolo explains.

Think you may have sleep apnea? You can start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.