Sleep Disorders

07 June 2011

Weight loss helps sleep apnoea

Many people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea could eliminate the condition by losing a significant amount of weight, a new study suggests.


Many people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea could eliminate the condition by losing a significant amount of weight, a new study suggests.

Without realising it, people with sleep apnoea wake up multiple times throughout the night as they struggle to breathe. The condition can cause severe daytime tiredness and other symptoms. In many cases, patients are treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a treatment that uses a machine to keep their airways open during sleep.

According to Dr. Virend Somers, a professor of medicine and cardiovascular diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., there seems to be a connection between sleep aponea and extra pounds. But exactly how they're related is not exactly clear, he said. "Although the majority of patients are obese, not everyone with sleep apnoea is obese," said Somers, who was not involved with the new study.

Physicians do know that "as you gain weight, sleep apnoea gets worse, and as you lose, it improves," Somers noted. Obesity may affect the airway's ability to stay open during sleep, or extra fat cells could affect the brain's control of the airway, he suggested.

Obesity and sleep apnoea

In the new study, published online in BMJ, researchers led by Kari Johansson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm tracked 63 male sleep apnoea patients, aged 30 to 65, who were overweight. Of those, 58 completed a version of the Cambridge Weight Plan, which started with a very low-kilojoule diet for nine weeks, followed by a year-long programme of weight-maintenance counselling. The Cambridge Weight Plan provided partial funding for the study.

After a year, about half of the patients who lost weight and kept it off no longer needed a CPAP machine to keep their airways open during sleep, and sleep apnea went away in 10% of them.

Somers noted that it's unlikely that the specific diet approach itself was important. "I'm not aware of any interaction between what you eat and sleep apnoea," he said. Instead, it's likely that simply losing weight did the trick, he explained.

(Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)


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Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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