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An estimated 15% of the United States population suffers from some type of sleep related disorder, the one of the more common types being sleep apnea and snoring disorders. The first step is to review your history to determine if you may have a potentially life threatening disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome or OSAS. The term “apnea” is Greek for “without breath.” Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by brief interruptions of breathing at night. This blockage is most commonly caused by collapse of your upper airway. Your upper airway begins with your nose and throat and ends at the entrance to your lungs in your chest. If there is a collapse at night in this system you may develop sleep apnea.

Snoring and OSAS occur when there is a collapse of the upper airway causing vibration (snoring) or blockage (apnea).

The most common areas of collapse occur in the nose, causing mouth breathing, or the back of the throat from sagging of the muscles and soft tissue. This area includes the uvula (the bell in the back of the throat) and the soft palate (the arch shaped soft portion of the back of the throat), which may also cause snoring. The tonsils and tongue may also cause obstruction particularly when you lay on your back. Being overweight may also cause pressure on the airway reducing airflow.

Mouth diagram

If you have a collapse of the upper airway it may completely or partially block your breathing at night. This pause in breath reduces the amount of air and oxygen that reaches the lungs. Your brain then senses this decrease in blood oxygen causing you to unknowingly open your airway by gasping erratically at night, interrupting your sleep. As a result you do not achieve deep (delta) sleep that is required for restfulness and you wake up tired and unsatisfied. This tiredness may lead to depression and weight gain causing a vicious cycle and worsening sleep apnea.

More importantly, with the decrease in oxygen your heart and lungs have to work harder to keep you body oxygenated. This increased work causes high blood pressure or hypertension and eventually results in heart and lung disease! Untreated sleep apnea has also been shown to lead to diabetes, stroke, or even sudden death.

Weight Gain and Sleep Apnea

There are several reasons one has trouble with weight gain (or difficulty losing weight) with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS).

First, OSAS causes arousals at night that does not allow you to have quality, deep (delta) sleep. Deep (delta) sleep is required for restfulness and restorative sleep. Without it you wake up unrefreshed and tired. This fatigue leads to inefficiency and lack of motivation to stay active and exercise leading to weight gain.

Secondly, OSAS causes slowing of your metabolism at night making it difficult to lose weight. Three hormones are affected by the lack of deep sleep. These hormones include cortisol, ghrelin, and leptin, all which contribute to overall body metabolism. The changes in these hormone levels result in less conversion of breaking down fats and increase in fat production.

Lastly, worsening weight gain causes worsening OSAS which causes worsening weight gain. This vicious cycle must be broken in order to lose weight and improve your overall health.

The Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center has its own medically supervised weight loss program for those who have weight issues and sleep apnea.