Sleep apnea and obesity

Key facts about sleep apnea and obesity.


  • More than half of the obese people have obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Approximately 70 per cent of obstructive sleep apnea patients have obesity.
  • Majority of people with sleep apnea do not know that they have it.
  • Sleep apnea is a leading cause of high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • The link between weight gain and sleep apnea is well established.
  • Sleep apnea contributes to metabolic syndrome; a deadly combination of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. 



Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that mainly affecs overweight people. Individuals with this condition stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. Breathing may stop many times per hour of sleep. The pause in respiration can last for one minute or more.

Interrupted breathing reduces the oxygen supply to vital organs such as brain and heart. Furthermore, it interfere with the quality and quantity of sleep. 

How obesity contributes to sleep apnea.


Excess weight gain is a leading cause of sleep apnea. In obese people, fat deposits accumulate within the layers of tissue in the neck. This causes constriction of the airway. Narrowing of air passage reduces air entry into the lungs.
In addition, excess fat in the belly increases intra-abdominal pressure. It can interfere with normal sleeping mechanisms. Morbid obesity increases the risk greatly.

Pickwickian Syndrome is a condition characterized by obesity, severe sleep apnea and some times heart failure. This condition is also known as Obesity Hypo-ventilation Syndrome.

Symptoms and signs of sleep apnea.


  • Loud irregular snoring
  • Gasps and other abnormal breathing sounds
  • Long pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Tiredness
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Loss of concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Changes in personality, mood, and behavior
  • Headaches in the morning
Sleep apnea is diagnosed by doing sleep studies with the help of an electronic device called polysomnogram. It is usually done in sleep centers. Portable monitoring equipment also available for testing at home.

Prevention and treatment.

  • Too much weight gain contributes greatly to the development of obstructive sleep apnea. Therefore, losing weight can help or even eliminate it.
  • Good sleep hygiene is important. Sleeping in a lateral position (on side) help reduce airway obstruction.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages in the evening should be avoided.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the treatment of choice for most people. However, before choosing a costly treatment, it is advisable to eliminate the obvious causative factors.
  • Quitting smoking is a good thing to do. It will greatly reduce the airflow obstruction.
Obesity is a main contributor of sleep apnea. In addition to that several other contributory factors are identified. One of the examples is enlarged tonsils.