Have you ever noticed that when you are tired you eat more? You may even feel ravenous and spend your day grazing the office freebies in the kitchenette. Your portions may be getting larger and the number of times you eat during the day may be increasing in an attempt to get more energy and combat fatigue. Rest assured this is not your fault! It is not a lack of willpower. The answer may lie in your sleep and sleep apnea may be the culprit responsible for your weight gain.
Why do we pack on the pounds when we are sleep deprived?
Sleep deprivation causes changes to hormones, the messengers that tell the body what to do and when to do it. When we’re sleep deprived, the hormones that control hunger and appetite start sending out faulty messages.
Here’s what happens.
There are four hormones that control hunger and appetite: ghrelin tells the body to eat, and leptin tells it to stop. Cortisol makes us crave sugary foods when we’re stressed. And insulin stores calories.
When we’re short on sleep we produce more ghrelin (making us want to eat) and less leptin (the hormone that tells us to stop). On top of that, we produce more cortisol due to the stress caused by lack of sleep, so we crave sugary foods. And we produce extra insulin, which leads the body to store glucose in fat cells . . . so we gain weight.
It’s no wonder that as much as we might try, if we’re lacking sleep, we will invariably turn to food. We simply cannot combat the signals our bodies are sending us. Moreover, with an increasing amount of cortisol, we’re likely to give in to junk food cravings.
The upshot? We nibble away all day, make less healthy food choices, and pretty quickly our weight goes up. A study at the University of Colorado found that after one week of sleeping for about 5 hours per night, participants gained an average of 1 kg.
Checklist: Sleep deprivation and the 4 hormones that cause weight gain
- Ghrelin is the hormone that tells your body to eat — and guess what? When we’re short on sleep, we produce more ghrelin.
- Leptin tells your body to stop eating. When we’re tired, we produce LESS leptin.
- Cortisol makes us crave sugary foods when our bodies are stressed or sleep deprived.
- Insulin then increases, so the body stores more sugar in its fat cells.
Sleep apnea and weight gain: a vicious cycle
When we’re overweight, we’re at risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) . . . which can make us gain more weight!
If you feel tired and/or sleepy all the time, or if you’ve been told you snore or stop breathing during your sleep, OSA may be the cause. OSA can wreak havoc on your nights and your days and make you gain weight. Here’s what happens:
- In obstructive sleep apnea the airway becomes blocked (obstructed) during sleep, which causes a pause in breathing.
- When we stop breathing our oxygen levels drop, which triggers the brain to tell us to wake up and breathe.
- However, we don’t wake up completely (these sleep interruptions are called “micro-arousals”).
- It’s these micro-arousals that disrupt our sleep architecture and cause us to wake up in the morning feeling as if we haven’t slept a wink.
And being overweight can make the problem worse! That’s because when we’re overweight the tissues in the throat collapse during sleep, causing the airway to become blocked. The more weight we gain, the more likely there will be a blockage, and the greater the chances the apnea will become more severe.
That’s right . . . gaining weight can cause us to sleep less, sleeping less can make us eat more, and we all know what happens when we eat more! This vicious cycle can turn into a nightmare. But there is hope: The cycle can be broken, starting with a proper night’s sleep. And the good news is Apnée Santé can help you achieve a good night’s rest.
How to break the cycle
Get tested, then treat those sleep problems
The first step is to get tested for sleep apnea, a frequent cause of poor sleep. If you have OSA symptoms and feel that your sleep is not restful, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it. Apnée Santé offers simple, fast and effective home testing. You can also contact us for a free evaluation to see if sleep testing is right for you.
If the test shows you have sleep apnea, you’ll be prescribed a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) device to help you get a restful, restorative night’s sleep.
Are you using a CPAP device already? If you want to make sure your sleep apnea is under control, Apnée Santé respiratory therapists can help.
Will CPAP treatment help with weight loss?
Yes! A three-month study of CPAP users published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed a marked reduction in body mass index, as well as a mild to moderate decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol levels1. That’s three good reasons for people with sleep apnea to use their CPAP device every night!
Is it okay to stop CPAP treatment after losing weight?
Treating sleep apnea and restoring sleep will obviously have an impact on your health and weight. You’ll stop feeling drowsy and fatigued. You’ll want to be more active, and with your new energy you might take up exercise, which will support your weight loss. And, of course, your hunger hormones will work normally.
Still, even if you snore less and feel you no longer suffer from sleep apnea, you should never stop CPAP without checking with a sleep medicine specialist first. That’s because there is no 100% guarantee that your sleep apnea will be completely eliminated. Although being overweight is a cause of sleep apnea, sometimes other factors are present too – such as ear, nose and throat abnormalities (including nasal obstruction, tonsillar hypertrophy, large tongue base, elongated uvula or palate), or facial abnormalities. If these factors are present, sleep apnea will not necessarily disappear with weight loss.
So you’ve lost that extra weight. What next?
After you’ve lost weight, it’s a good idea to visit your sleep clinic. It’s possible that the pressure setting on your CPAP machine will need adjustment because your airway has become less restricted.
After that, start thinking about other healthy lifestyle changes! With cravings under control, you can take the time to make nutritious meals. The extra energy you get from being well-rested can help you get a good workout, either outdoors or in the gym. You’ll find that with the help of Apnée Santé, a whole new outlook begins with a good night’s sleep!
1Rishi, Muhammad Adeel MD et al. Effect of Positive Airway Pressure Therapy on Body Mass Index in Obese Patients With Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: A Prospective Study. American Journal of Therapeutics: March/April 2016 – Volume 23 – Issue 2 – p 422–428