Does sleep apnea cause weight gain

Obesity is a big problem in the United States, and it has been rising steadily over the past few years. Obesity contributes to many health problems such as sleep apnea, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer (1).

Sleep apnea increases your risk of all these diseases and can be caused by obesity (2). Researchers are exploring whether sleep apnea causes weight gain or if obesity is to blame for sleep disorders.

Let’s look at what sleep apnea is, how it’s connected to weight problems, and talk about how apnea can lead to increased body weight.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apanea

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that affects how you breathe when sleeping. During an episode of this disorder, you will temporarily stop breathing multiple times during the night (3).

When breathing starts again, your heart rate speeds up, leading to low blood oxygen levels. These disruptions can last for just seconds or up to one minute, leading to loud snoring and choking sounds until airflow resumes.

If left untreated, there are serious health risks like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Weight gain may also cause sleep apnea by adding too much pressure on your airway, making it more likely to collapse while you sleep (4).

Why Is Sleep Important?

Sleep is important for everyone because it gives the body time to recover from a busy day. When you sleep, your body rejuvenates and repairs itself by releasing growth hormones that help with muscle strength, stamina, and cell repair (5).

Proper rest also improves memory, mood, and cognition (6). However, if you don’t get enough sleep, your body can go into a “sleep debt,” making you feel tired all the time, even when well-rested.

What Are The Effects of Sleep Apnea on Sleep?     

Effect of Sleep Apanea

Sleep apnea can cause sleep to be fragmented, making you feel tired during the day. This lack of rest affects your judgment and reaction times making you more likely to have an accident while working or driving.

It can also lead to low energy levels, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and imbalanced hormones (7).

If sleep apnea is not treated, it will worsen over time, making weight loss even more challenging. Severe cases may need surgery or medical treatment, but lifestyle changes are the only way to prevent this disorder from worsening.

Losing weight and eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol or sleeping pills can prevent sleep apnea (8).

How Sleep Apnea Affects Weight Gain

Typically, people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight, but more than just that may be. Researchers believe that sleep apnea makes obesity worse due to two factors: (9)

  1. When breathing stops during apnea, more carbon dioxide builds up in blood and tissues (10). Carbon dioxide is a waste product that makes you crave salty foods, leading to higher blood pressure and excess body weight.
  2. Obstruction of the airway during apnea blocks airflow to the lungs, depriving them of oxygen allowing toxins to accumulate in the body (11). This can make your body want sugar for energy instead of using stored fat, making you feel more hungry and leading you to consume more calories than required.

If you have sleep apnea, your body is not getting the oxygen it needs, making you feel tired and increasing your risk of developing heart disease.

In addition, if left untreated, sleep apnea can cause weight gain because of inflammation, metabolic changes, and lack of motivation to exercise (12).

How Sleep Apnea Disrupts Weight Loss

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can affect the way you sleep, making it harder to lose weight. It causes sleep to be fragmented because of the frequent pauses in breathing and loud snoring.

It also makes you feel tired during the day because the body does not act fully when rest deprived. The lack of oxygen during an episode may make you feel groggy and reduce your perception of how many calories are burned during exercise (13).

People with untreated sleep apnea tend to have less REM or rapid eye movement during sleep when most dreams occur (14).

This disorder interrupts the body’s normal daily rhythms making it difficult to change your schedule for work, social events, or personal time where possible (15).

Untreated sleep apnea is associated with weight gain and obesity. If you have untreated obstructive sleep apnea, you will most likely become overweight and obese if the disorder remains untreated over time.

When the airway collapses or becomes blocked, it makes breathing difficult, which can cause gasping or choking while sleeping (16).

The lack of oxygen, increased carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream, disrupted circadian rhythms, low energy level, and hunger are all factors that make this disorder lead to weight gain (17).

How Sleep Apnea Can Lead To Excessive Body Weight

Sleep Apnea Lead To Excessive Body Weight
  1. Research shows that people with sleep apnea tend to have more stress, anxiety, and depression, craving comfort foods (18).
  2. Sleep apnea sufferers often feel fatigued, making it harder to exercise and perform daily tasks. That leads to a less active lifestyle (19). Also, people who sleep less than six hours a night are four times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes (20), making it harder for people to achieve weight loss.
  3. When breathing stops for 10 seconds or more during sleep deprivation, oxygen levels in the blood go down. This lowers the cells’ energy to perform normal functions, making you feel tired or lethargic. (22).
  4. When breathing is stopped for 10 seconds, carbon dioxide levels rise, similar to what an air bubble may do when it unintentionally enters your bloodstream. (23) This causes symptoms similar to intoxication such as lack of coordination, poor decision making, feeling dizzy or sleepy, slurred speech, memory loss, and difficulties with thinking clearly.
  5. This makes people with obstructive sleep apnea more likely to become overweight or obese because they get less quality sleep at night or feel tired due to lack of sleep during the day. It also makes people crave sugary treats for energy instead of healthy meals, leading you to develop type 2 diabetes. In addition, sleep apnea increases your risk for heart attack, high blood pressure, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases that can be fatal. (25)

How you can possibly avoid sleep apnea?

Physical activitz

Reduce caffeine:

Consuming caffeine within four hours of bedtime can cause awakenings and poorer overall quality of sleep. People who consume two cups of coffee per day have been shown to suffer from more frequent episodes of wakefulness during the night when compared with non-consumers. (26)

Poor Sleep Habits:

It is important to establish good sleep hygiene when treating this disorder. This includes going to bed and waking up simultaneously every day. In addition, avoiding bright lights like your cell phone display or television before you go to bed, practicing relaxation techniques before sleeping like meditation or deep breathing.

Also, avoid taking long naps during the day, establish a regular exercise routine but not close to bedtime, and avoid eating heavy meals close to bedtime, especially if you are overweight or obese already because it can worsen sleep apnea symptoms.


Lack of physical activity can lead to major weight gain and increase your risk of becoming obese. Obesity has an evident role in developing sleep apnea research shows. [26]

Taking long naps


Drinking alcohol up to three hours before bedtime can cause fragmented sleep and increase arousals during the night compared to drinking closer to bedtime or not at all. (27)

Alcohol consumption close to bedtime can also worsen snoring, and apnea episodes since it relaxes throat muscles that may collapse during sleep due to extra fat deposits building up around them, leading to irritation of breathing passages.

High-Salt Diet:

Eating too much salt and sodium for short is often associated with high blood pressure and can cause you to retain water, leading to increased weight gain. (28)


If you have been stressed out lately, this can lead to weight gain regardless of whether you have normally been eating or not. (30)

Stress increases cortisol, a stress hormone that tells your body that it needs more sugar and fat to burn for energy during trouble or crisis.

Unfortunately, this also leads to stronger cravings for junk food, fast foods, and sugar-filled desserts when you feel stressed out or anxious since this is exactly what your body wants then.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease:

Carrying too much stomach fat can increase the pressure in your abdomen, pushing up on your stomach and esophagus, leading to acid reflux or heartburn more easily than others with less stomach fat do. (31)

In addition, acid reflux has been linked with weight gain over time due to the irritation of the esophagus that occurs from it, which may cause you to avoid eating as often since it feels uncomfortable or painful afterward.


Morning coffee

Studies examining sleep apnea patients demonstrate that there is a direct link between sleep apnea and weight gain.

While this sleep disorder is very common in observing already overweight patients, there’s strong evidence advocating that gaining weight can be a result of developing sleep apnea as well.

Sleep problems, insufficient sleep leads to gaining weight or even obesity, medical studies show [32].

In another study, which continuously examined 754,315 participants over the 16 years period, showed that women sleeping 6 hours on average were 12% more likely to have a 15-kg weight gain, while women sleeping 5 hours or less were 32% more likely [33].

There are more risk factors related to the absence of restful sleep: chronic fatigue, higher risk of increased blood pressure, daytime sleepiness, hormonal imbalance, and other neurological factors leading to a vicious cycle of further health problems development.

If you are experiencing this sleep disorder or suspect having one, seeking professional treatment is strongly advised, as evidence shows that obstructive sleep apnea can lead to excess weight and problems associated with weight control.

Anna A. Cudney

This is Anna A. Cudney. I have created “Lean Mates” website to help people lose body weight. I have faced the problem of obesity and tried many things to re-shape my body. My goal of this website is to share my experience to help others lose their weight too.

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