Sleep apnoea: The effects of obesity on sleep quality

What are the warning signs of sleep apnoea? It can include multiple symptoms like loud snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, however, does weight affect sleep quality and can being overweight cause sleep apnoea?

It is more common in people who are overweight and obese, but can losing weight cure sleep apnoea? And will treating sleep apnoea help you lose weight?

Treating sleep apnoea is possible - still, you need to know what the 2 different types of sleep apnoea are and which one it is you have. It is important that you start to treat sleep apnoea as soon as possible because if sleep apnoea is left untreated, it can lead to further medical issues. It can affect your cardiovascular health as sleep apnoea and cardiovascular health are potentially linked.

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is a medical condition where you repeatedly stop and start breathing in your sleep. There are two main types of sleep apnoea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnoea. It happens when the throat muscles and soft tissues relax and block the flow of air into the lungs.
  • Central sleep apnoea (CSA) happens when the brain doesn’t send the correct signals to the muscles that control breathing.[1]

If you think you have sleep apnoea you will be referred to a special clinic for tests. You will be given devices that check your breathing and heartbeat whilst you sleep. You usually wear the devices overnight so that doctors can check for sleep apnoea. The test is usually done at home, however, sometimes you might be required to stay in the clinic overnight.


Symptoms of sleep apnoea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Stopping breathing in your sleep
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Morning headache
  • Insomnia (struggling to fall asleep)
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Irritability

How does sleep apnoea affect day-to-day life?

People with sleep apnoea find that they are considerably more tired the next day. It is one of the side effects of sleep apnoea. Sleep deprivation can affect your energy and productivity. It can also make everyday tasks such as driving more dangerous.

Sleep apnoea can affect your memory and cause you to have a difficult time concentrating. It makes everyday tasks harder to complete and can hinder your performance at school or work.

Sleep apnoea also has the ability to make you feel irritable and moody throughout the day. Constant lack of sleep can also lead to changes in your personality and depression.

Can being overweight/obese cause sleep apnoea?

Being overweight automatically puts you at a higher risk of developing sleep apnoea. Carrying excess weight creates fat deposits in your neck known as pharyngeal fat. This can block the upper airway whilst you sleep when the airway is already relaxed.

You are considered overweight if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 24.9 or above. [2]

If you have gained weight and are worried that you might be overweight, you should consider checking your BMI. [2]

How does weight affect sleep quality?

People who are overweight are more likely to struggle with insomnia or difficulty sleeping. It has been suggested that obesity can also change the metabolism and sleep cycles in a way that causes sleep quality to deteriorate.

Poor quality sleep can lead to a higher body mass index and weight gain.

Not only does being overweight or obese increase your chances of developing sleep apnoea, it also increases the risk of snoring and restless legs. Even being a couple of extra pounds over your ideal body weight can negatively impact your sleep.

Is there a treatment for sleep apnoea?

There are treatments for sleep apnoea including lifestyle changes and trying to lose weight.

Will losing weight cure sleep apnoea?

Unfortunately losing weight will not cure sleep apnoea. However, it will help to reduce the symptoms and prevent further health problems. You should try to follow a healthy diet and avoid foods that can lead to weight gain.

Losing weight can also reduce the size of your neck circumference and lower the amount of pressure needed to keep your airway open.

Other lifestyle changes that can help with sleep apnoea

Healthy lifestyle changes can be effective when it comes to treating or managing your sleep apnoea. Making sure that you are getting physical activity into your daily schedule can help, alongside maintaining healthy sleeping habits.

You should try to limit the amount of alcohol and caffeine you consume. If you are a smoker you should also consider quitting smoking.

What are CPAP devices and how do they help with sleep apnoea?

A CPAP device (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is a common treatment option for sleep apnoea. They provide you with a constant flow of pressurised air through a mask that you wear whilst you are asleep.

CPAP therapy prevents breathing interruptions that are caused by sleep apnoea. It can provide you with improved sleep quality, lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes, reduce daytime sleepiness and improve sugar management in people with diabetes.

Will a different sleeping position stop sleep apnoea?

The position you sleep in can impact the quality of sleep that you get. When it comes to sleep apnoea, sleeping on the side is the best bet. If you sleep on your side it is less likely that the tissues in your mouth and throat will be blocking your airway.[3]

You should try to avoid sleeping on your back. The tongue can fall back in the mouth and obstruct your airflow.

If you prefer to sleep on your back, it is best to sleep with your head up at a 60 degree angle. Sleeping with your head elevated can reduce how much gravity pulls the tongue and other tissues into a position that can block the airway.

Olivia Malone - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 12 March 2024
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