Overweight and Snoring: A Vicious Circle

scales showing overweight

Being a snorer and being overweight are interchangeably linked. In other words, obesity can cause snoring and snoring can cause obesity.

Loud snoring is often a stepping stone towards sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea, and the link with bodyweight is startling.

Obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) value more than 30kg/m2, is the most significant risk factor for the development of sleep apnea. 70% of patients experiencing sleep apnea are obese, and 40% of obese people experience sleep apnea. The vast majority (95%) of people with obstructive sleep apnea are snorers [1].

Promisingly, weight loss is the most potent remedy for snoring. Dropping a few pounds can drastically reduce both normal snoring and sleep apnea.

How does being overweight make you snore?

Our weight is determined by our daily eating and exercise habits, with a degree of genetic predisposition. Where fat is distributed on our bodies dictates snoring.

Neck fat causes direct compression of the upper airway

Neck fat compresses the upper airway, particularly when lying down, making snoring much more likely.

Many questionnaires that assess your risk of sleep apnea ask your neck size. This isn’t something that many people tend to associate with snoring but it certainly plays a role. A value exceeding 16 inches is a watershed, where your weight is probably a major player in your snoring.

Midriff fat causes indirect compression of the upper airway

Being overweight and snoring isn’t just about neck fat. Central obesity, where fat is found around the midriff and chest, also worsens snoring and sleep apnea.

Belly fat pushes your diaphragm up (a phenomenon mirrored in pregnant women, another sub-group of snorers), and fat on your chest compresses the ribcage. Both of these shrink the volume of your lungs. Lower lung capacity restricts airflow, air that is needed to keep some shape in the throat to prevent collapse.

Men are more likely to snore due to their fat distribution

Distribution of fat differs between the sexes, which goes some way to explaining why more men snore than women. Women usually gain body fat peripherally: on the thighs, hips and buttocks.

Central fat on the neck, chest and abdomen is a pattern far more common in men, making them more likely to snore.

After menopause, fat distribution in women changes, making central weight gain and snoring more likely.

How can snoring make you overweight?

Everyone knows that overeating and under-exercising makes us overweight. What is less well known is that snoring itself can facilitate weight gain.

This is because sleep deprivation caused by snoring or sleep apnea changes our habits and our appetite.

A classic example of this is someone who is tired during the day due to a poor night’s sleep, drinking high-sugar soft drinks to stay alert.

Poor sleep saps our energy. We can’t always catch up on sleep when we like, so instead we fill that energy void with food, particularly foods with plenty of sugar. Here, we think we are hungry but are actually just sleep deprived.

Under-exercising is a symptom of the fatigue and tiredness that come from bad sleep. If you aren’t sleeping properly, how ready for exercise do you really feel?

This is the snoring-obesity cycle.

Snorers and their partners lose sleep, so are less inclined to exercise and more inclined to eat lots of carbohydrate-rich foods. This spells weight gain. More weight means more snoring. More snoring produces worse sleep and more exhaustion, which in turn is mitigated by overeating and under-exercising [2].

A perfect storm

No aspect of health is an island. The body is a hugely complex, interlinked network of systems where every action has a host of reactions. Snoring and weight gain work in a vicious cycle but not in isolation; both factors suck in more health problems as the cycle spirals out of control.

Even without being overweight, low oxygen episodes in sleep apnea put strain on the heart and blood vessels. Coupled with obesity, a perfect storm is brewing that can lead to heart troubles, stroke and diabetes amongst many other maladies.

The benefits of weight loss

Now let’s look towards a positive, snoring-free future. Somehow you must break the cycle. When you do, the results are often astounding.

Many studies have looked into the effect of weight loss on disturbed sleep breathing. They have found that many people can half the severity of sleep apnea by losing only 10-15% of their bodyweight [3].

But why stop at 10-15%? Further weight reduction has hugely dramatic effects on sleep and snoring. Another study found that following bariatric surgery (a procedure to reduce the size of the stomach) where there was 60% body fat reduction, apnea episodes stopped entirely in 86% of people [4].

So how do you break the cycle?

Research has shown that people getting poor sleep are far less likely to lose weight. Fatigue and stress from sleep debt makes people disinclined to stick to diet and exercise regimes [5]. So how do you break the cycle?

Ideally, you need a combined approach of effective weight loss techniques, well suited snoring remedies and good sleep hygiene.

Weight loss techniques for snorers

There’s no shortage of advice and special diets when it comes to losing weight. It can all be a bit confusing and overwhelming. No single technique works wonders for everyone, and drastic solutions are rarely stuck at for very long. Try a combination of the following, sustainable methods to start you on your way to weight loss:

  • Low carbohydrate diet – reducing your carbohydrate intake – that’s sugar and starch – can help you lose weight very quickly. This can be achieved with smart  substitutions of ingredients.
  • Don’t eat too soon before bed – indigestion can cause reflux and discomfort that disrupts sleep. Eat earlier, get better sleep and feel readier to lose weight.
  • Eat little and often – big meals make you feel sluggish. Feel better and more active by eating smaller portions throughout the day.
  • Slow down – there is a natural delay in digestion, so we can be physically full before our brain realises we are, causing us to overeat. By taking our time when we eat, not only do we stop sooner, but we also enjoy food more.

Snoring remedies for overweight people

Snoring remedies can be very effective if they are correctly matched to the snorer. Due to the nature of their snoring, there are certain remedies that are better suited to overweight people:

  • Mouthpieces – your mouth falls open when you sleep if neck fat has decreased the muscular tone in your neck. Use a mouthpiece to bring your jaw forward to stop your tongue falling back and causing airway obstruction.
  • Positional therapy – this is another way of saying: sleep on your side! The combined effect of being overweight and sleeping on your back can make snoring very bad. There are many ways to change your position, from specialised pillows and vibrating training devices, to simple hacks like attaching a tennis ball to your back.
  • CPAP – this is the remedy of choice for sleep apnea, and can be very effective in reducing snoring and improving sleep.

Use SnoreLab to identify the remedies and factors you use and see how they are affecting your snoring. Also make note of how well you have slept each night, and if any changes you’ve made have had an impact.

Good sleep hygiene

Set yourself up for a great night’s sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene. This isn’t about personal cleanliness (though showering/bathing does indeed help) but is about preparing your mind and body for sleep. Follow these useful tips:

  • Have regular bed times.
  • Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep.
  • Make sure your room is dark.
  • Mentally declutter with gentle activity like reading a book.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Avoid napping too soon before bedtime.
  • Have a cool bedroom.
  • Take a shower or bath before bed.
  • Don’t force sleep if it isn’t forthcoming.

Conclusion

If you are overweight and snoring, you may find yourself in a cycle that is difficult to break free from. With effective weight loss techniques, well suited snoring remedies and good sleep hygiene, you can start to lose weight, stop snoring, and gain so much more.

References

  1. Romero-Corral A, et al. Interactions Between Obesity and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Chest 2010; 137(3): 711-719. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3021364/
  2. Dilkes M, Adams A. Stop snoring the easy way and the real reasons you need to. Hachette UK 2017.
  3. Schwarz A R, et al. Effect of weight loss on upper airway collapsibility in obstructive sleep apnea. American Review of Respiratory Diseases 1991; 144: 494-498. https://doi.org/10.1164/ajrccm/144.3_Pt_1.494
  4. Buchwald H, et al. Bariatric surgery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 2004; 292(14): 1724-37. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.292.14.1724
  5. Elder C R, et al. Impact of sleep, screen time, depression and stress on weight change in the intensive weight loss phase of the LIFE study. International Journal of Obesity 2012; 36: 86-92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136584/

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