Weight Loss Helps Sleep Apnea

Shedding Extra Pounds May Relieve or Even Cure Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 28, 2009

Sept. 28, 2009 -- Losing weight may help obese people as well as their partners sleep better by easing obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.

A new study confirms that weight loss can significantly improve and potentially eliminate obstructive sleep apnea symptoms in obese people.

Researchers found that people with severe obstructive 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.

"These results show that doctors as well as patients can expect a significant improvement in their sleep apnea with weight loss," researcher Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, says in a news release. "And a reduction in sleep apnea has a number of benefits for overall health and well-being."

Obstructive sleep apnea is most common in overweight and obese people. The sleep disorder causes loud snoring and sleep disruptions as a result of the airway becoming temporarily blocked during sleep. If untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

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.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Solution

In the study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers looked at the effect of weight loss on obstructive sleep apnea in 264 obese adults with type 2 diabetes.

The participants were randomly divided into two groups. One group received a weight loss program with portion-controlled diets and an exercise program of 175 minutes of exercise per week. The second group received no weight loss advice and participated in a diabetes management program.

After one year, the weight loss group lost an average of 24 pounds; the second group lost just over 1 pound.

Those in the weight loss group were three times as likely to experience a remission of their obstructive sleep apnea symptoms (13.6% vs. 3.5%) and had about half the instances of severe sleep apnea as the second group.

In addition, the study showed that people in the second group experienced a worsening of their sleep apnea symptoms.

Foster says these results show that weight loss can significantly reduce the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and without treatment the sleep disorder can progress rapidly.

Show Sources


Foster, G. Archives of Internal Medicine, Sept. 28, 2009; vol 169: pp 1619-1626.

News release, Temple University.

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