How Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain Are Related (Updated)

Dr. Doni, author of The Stress Remedy, discusses how weight gain and sleep apnea can disrupt your sleep and offers advice on how to address both issues.

Part 6 of Dr. Doni’s Series on Sleep Disruptors and Insomnia

How Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain Are RelatedIn the introduction to this series, I gave an overview of 12 things that can disrupt our sleep. These are:

  1. Timing
  2. Environment
  3. Waking to use the bathroom
  4. Blood sugar imbalance
  5. Elevated cortisol
  6. Weight gain (this post)
  7. Inflammation and pain
  8. Food sensitivities
  9. Imbalanced neurotransmitters
  10. Hormonal changes
  11. Low melatonin
  12. Stress

So far in this series I’ve talked about each of the first five reasons sleep can be disrupted and given tips on how to address them. To read the series from the beginning, click here. This week, it is time to consider how weight gain and sleep apnea (when you stop breathing for brief periods of time while sleeping) may be affecting your sleep, and how getting enough sleep can help you lose weight. In this article I will give you tips that can help you prevent weight gain, and plan for weight loss.

Why insomnia makes us fat

Studies reveal that when we don’t sleep, our hormones become imbalanced, specifically the hormones that manage hunger, appetite (leptin and ghrelin), and blood sugar (insulin) 1. This means that when you don’t get enough sleep you are more likely to feel hungry, which leads you to eat more (especially filling carbohydrates).  And, because your insulin levels are also disrupted and therefore less able to manage the extra carbs and resulting sugars, you are more likely to gain weight – which, in turn, makes inflammation and diabetes more likely2,3. You can read more about blood sugar and sleep here.

Cortisol is another key hormone that makes weight gain more likely when you don’t sleep. Cortisol levels are elevated at night in people who don’t sleep and that increase is associated with decreased insulin function and increased weight gain4. Read more about cortisol and sleep here.

So, insomnia leads to weight gain, but at the same time weight gain makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep. Additionally, weight gain is associated with sleep apnea which if untreated, increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression and headaches. Not only that, but sleep apnea also leads to weight gain5.

The good news is however, when you break this vicious cycle there is the potential for profound improvements in your health as well as for slimming your waistline. In fact, getting good sleep may be the best non-diet method for losing weight there is. So, in the interests of improving your sleep (and your waistline), let’s first look more closely at sleep apnea and how to address it before tackling weight gain – what causes it and what to do about it.

Sleep Apnea

While it can seem that one would notice sleep apnea (essentially not breathing for between 10 and 20 seconds, sometimes hundreds of times a night) it is not uncommon to not be aware it’s happening. For some people, it occurs when the throat is blocked by extra tissue caused by too much weight (obstructive sleep apnea). For others, it is due to a signaling issue from the brain. Either way, sleep apnea disrupts your healthy sleep cycle, which means you’ll benefit less from sleep.

The best way to find out if you have sleep apnea is to have a sleep study at a specialty sleep clinic. They will be able to track your oxygen levels, sleep cycles and wake-up times amongst other things, and tell you whether you are experiencing sleep apnea.

You should request a sleep study if:

  • You feel unrested when you wake in the morning and/or fatigued during the day
  • The person you sleep with tells you your breathing changes as you sleep
  • You have headaches or dry mouth when you wake in the morning
  • Your memory is decreased, you are irritable or have frequent mood changes
  • You wake frequently to urinate
  • You snore

Although not everyone who experiences these has sleep apnea, these can be signs that sleep apnea is occurring.

If sleep apnea is found, then the sleep specialist will recommend a CPAP (continuous positive airflow pressure) machine (or another, similar, option) that provides a constant stream of air into your throat, keeping your breathing passages open while you sleep. Ultimately, however, the best way to deal with obstructive sleep apnea is to address the underlying cause. In many cases the best way to do this is to lose weight.

Weight Gain

It’s one thing to notice that your clothes are fitting more tightly and that you’ve gained a bit of weight. it’s another thing to determine the cause so you can address it. So let’s talk a bit here about how to determine the cause of weight gain. While poor sleep plays a part in weight gain it is more complex than that. There are number of possible factors at play that can influence your weight and figuring out what they are is the best way to ensure successful weight loss.

How to determine the cause of your weight gain

The standard theory for many years has been that ‘calories in’ (ie: what you eat) should equal ‘calories out’ (ie: the amount of energy you burn) in order to maintain your current weight. Basically, the more you eat, the more energy you need to expend in order to avoid storage of those calories as body fat. This theory has some value for sure, but it does not allow for the effect of hormones (such as cortisol, thyroid function, and insulin), cellular metabolism, mitochondrial function, neurotransmitters, inflammatory messengers, leaky gut, and so on, that have an influence on whether you gain or lose weight.

To fully understand weight gain, we need to look at what I refer to as your four core systems – Digestion, Immune system, Hormones, and Nervous system – and at whether the three problems networks – Leaky Gut, Adrenal Distress, and Carbohydrate metabolism imbalances – have developed. You can read more about the four core systems and three problem networks here.

Once we know which of the networks is causing problems for you we then have a clear path and can make a weight loss plan that is individualized to you, rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach.

Addressing weight gain by balancing hormones and decreasing inflammation

As we saw at the top of this article, the reason insomnia makes us fat is that it destabilizes the hormones that affect appetite, hunger and blood sugar causing us to eat more and making it harder for our bodies to burn it off. Knowing all this, let’s look at how you can lose unwanted weight and prevent further weight gain with three steps that will help rebalance your hormones while reducing the inflammation that results from the hormonal imbalance and contributes to weight gain.

Step 1: Make your blood sugar levels a priority

Drink water instead of sweetened beverages and alcohol and eat something that contains protein and healthy fats at least every four hours (even on a busy day). Don’t eat sugar or carbohydrates within three hours of going to sleep. By doing this, you’ll reduce your blood sugar levels while improving your insulin function.

Step 2: Identify any food sensitivities

Avoid any foods you are sensitive to in order to minimize inflammation and promote the healing of leaky gut. You can test for food sensitivities for yourself, at home, with a simple finger prick test. Learn more here.

Step 3: Know your cortisol levels and use daily stress remedies

You can find out what your cortisol levels are by doing a saliva panel that shows your cortisol levels at four different times of day. Then, and this is fully explained in my newly released quick and easy ebook called Stress Remedies, choose activities that lower your cortisol and optimize your stress response. You can find the eBook for 99 cents at Amazon.

If you’d like further help with losing weight, you might consider following The Hamptons Cleanse, and using it as a guideline for your food choices throughout the day. The Hamptons Cleanse includes a meal plan that is free of gluten, dairy, egg, soy, sugar and alcohol that helps you accomplish your goals. The meal plan can be also modified to meet your individual needs.

Plan for weight loss

Just as with any goal, it is important to break your weight loss goals down into ‘doable’ steps. That is to say, make sure you choose goals that are achievable for you. It might be to lose 2 pounds by the end of January, or for others it may be to lose 10 pounds by Spring break. Note that these examples are also specific and should be tailored to your life. You can always adjust your goal if you find that it is not achievable – that is part of the learning process.

For the most comprehensive support with weight loss, be sure to look to my book The Stress Remedy, which includes many case studies that outlines the many possible scenarios that can lead to weight gain. It also includes a three-week menu plan, plus recipes, and a whole chapter focused on supporting your success with optimizing your weight. You can get a copy – paperback or ebook – for yourself, or for a friend or family member, here or at Amazon.

Whether you have sleep apnea or not, getting your body the support it needs – whether that is adrenal support, leaky gut healing, blood sugar balancing, hormone or neurotransmitter balancing, or all of the above – will surely lead to improved health and sleep.

Please share your thoughts, comments, tips and questions in the comments box below. I love to hear from you.

In the next installment of this sleep series I will go into more detail about how inflammation and pain can affect your sleep and what you can do about it. Subscribe to be sure you receive it direct to your inbox.

~Dr. Doni
18th December 2014 (updated 15th January 2015)

Dr. Doni’s Natural Sleep Solutions Package
I designed a special 4-month naturopathic treatment package to address the very issues outlined here in this post (and in this whole series on sleep).

This rigorous program will help you identify the underlying cause of your sleep issues, construct a natural remedy plan that will reduce or eliminate your symptoms, and design a long-term health regime to help you get restful sleep and restore your quality of life.

For more info, please click here.


References

  1. Leproult R1, Van Cauter E. Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism. Endocr Dev. 2010;17:11-21.
  1. Reutrakul S1, Van Cauter E. Interactions between sleep, circadian function, and glucose metabolism: implications for risk and severity of diabetes. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014 Apr;1311:151-73.
  1. Leproult R1, Holmbäck U2, Van Cauter E3. Circadian misalignment augments markers of insulin resistance and inflammation, independently of sleep loss. Diabetes. 2014 Jun;63(6):1860-9.<s/mall>
  1. Zhang J1, Lam SP, Li SX, Ma RC, Kong AP, Chan MH, Ho CS, Li AM, Wing YK. A community-based study on the association between insomnia and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: sex and pubertal influences. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Jun;99(6):2277-87.
  1. Arnardottir ES1, Mackiewicz M, Gislason T, Teff KL, Pack AI. Molecular signatures of obstructive sleep apnea in adults: a review and perspective. Sleep. 2009 Apr;32(4):447-70.


Photo Credit: “40+23 – $(*$#&% !!” by bark is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Changed from original: Added text overlays.

Comments

  1. It also helps to suppress your appetite and craving for sweet food, so you won’t gain weight easily. Dinner – Rainbow salad with 60% shredded vegetables, 30% chopped fruits and 10% dressing (mix virgin coconut oil with flaxseed oil as dressing). Seek twenty five grms or more of total fiber per day.

  2. Interesting info. What do you think of the theory that there may be a hormonal tie-in (i.e. hormonal disregulation due to constant sleep interruption)?

    • Yes, absolutely, I definitely think that hormones become involved – hormone imbalance can disrupt sleep and disrupted sleep imbalances hormones.

  3. Whenever I intermittently fast, I sleep better, lose fatty weight, and have more energy. I also seem to build more muscle. Fasting leads to less digestion while sleeping, leaving your body more time to produce key sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. The resulting muscle gain then leads to a higher metabolism, more weight loss and even better sleep, and so on. It’s what I like to call the cycle of immortality. Whenever I do it, I feel amazing. My only problem is having the discipline to not eat in the evening. It’s so hard!