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Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain: 3 Facts You Should Know

By Kaelyn Johnson, MPH, RD
Medically Reviewed by Lisa Shives, MD, PC on August 30, 2021
Does sleep apnea cause weight gain? According to experts, sleep apnea affects more than your sleep. It may also cause weight gain and prevent weight loss.

Sleep apnea is a severe sleep disorder that causes a disrupted breathing pattern during sleep. Signs and symptoms of the condition include snoring and gasping for air while sleeping. According to Cleveland Clinic, sleep apnea affects 25% of men and almost 10% of women. But can the disorder cause weight gain? Here, experts offer their insights about the possible relationship between sleep apnea and weight gain. 

Sleep Restriction Can Increase Your Appetite

One hypothesis about how sleep apnea can affect weight gain relies on two hormones called ghrelin and leptin. Leptin is meant to decrease your appetite, whereas ghrelin is intended to increase it.

“Sleep apnea patients have significantly higher ghrelin levels, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, and significantly lower leptin levels, the hormone that makes you feel full," Chelsea Rohrscheib, Ph.D., lead sleep specialist and neuroscientist at Wesper, tells WebMD Connect to Care. "This means that individuals with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to feel hungry and consume more calories.”

A 2019 article published by Nutrients notes that leptin resistance is often observed in obese individuals, which can lead to the intake of excessive calories and difficulties with weight loss. In addition, decreased ghrelin levels are commonly seen in individuals who are obese. However, the association between leptin and ghrelin levels regarding sleep apnea and weight gain in humans is still being studied.

Sleep Loss Can Hinder Your Ability to Lose Weight

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults between the ages of 18 and 60 need at least seven hours of sleep per night. However, if you’re sleep-deprived, this may affect your ability to lose weight.

“Sleep loss from sleep apnea can also reduce your body's ability to lose weight efficiently. Studies have shown that even when placed on low-calorie diets, individuals that are sleep deprived lost 55% less weight from fat than individuals that were on the same diet but had sufficient sleep,” Rohrscheib says. 

According to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, inconsistent sleep patterns or a shortened sleep duration can lower the likelihood of successful weight loss. Additionally, lack of sleep can lead to diminished or lack of impulse control, junk food cravings, and being too tired to exercise, which can prevent you from being motivated to lose weight.

Weight Gain Can Increase Your Chances of Sleep Apnea 

Additionally, being obese can put you at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea.

“As the body gains weight, more tissue can be found on or around the throat. This makes apnea events more common. Because the extra weight makes it more likely, the tissues in the soft palate will collapse, causing an apnea event,” Chadwick Denman, DDS, a sleep specialist at Sleep Cycle Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

According to a 2017 article published in Anesthesia and Analgesia, weight gain can cause an increase in fat distribution in the neck and waist specifically, which can subsequently contribute to the development of sleep apnea. In addition, Mayo Clinic observes that an increased neck circumference can narrow the airway, which can cause snoring and sleep apnea.

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.