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The Link Between Your Diet and Obstructive Sleep Apnea

It’s common knowledge that one of the biggest risk factors for developing obstructive sleep apnea is obesity. And that losing weight can help reverse the problem. But is it really that easy?

If only.

For many people who are suffering from the disorder, dropping excess weight isn’t a simple solution. That’s because having obstructive sleep apnea—and the resulting sleep deficit it brings—can actually contribute to obesity or make it hard for a person to lose weight. Welcome to sleep apnea’s vicious cycle.

But there are ways to work through the issue, and as August is Wellness Month, we’re taking a deeper look into the link between your diet and sleep apnea and just what you can do to get a good night’s rest.

It’s important to note that not all people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight—and not all overweight people have sleep apnea. But carrying excess weight can make a person more likely to have the disorder, and, in fact, more than half of those diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight or obese. The reason? Excess fat can accumulate in the neck area and obstruct breathing, causing a person to stop breathing several times during the night. Studies have shown that a 10 percent weight gain increases the odds of developing moderate or severe sleep apnea by six times and that those who are obese have a sevenfold increased risk of developing it when compared to a person of normal weight.

It’s for that reason that most doctors will recommend a person lose weight in order to eliminate or lessen the severity of obstructive sleep apnea.

Losing weight to treat or resolve sleep apnea

According to the National Sleep Foundation, losing 10 percent of body weight can significantly improve the condition, and losing a large amount of weight can even be curative.

But here’s the rub: It can be extremely difficult for people who are fatigued from a lack of quality sleep to lose weight. Poor sleep can affect the production of hormones related to appetite and slow down your metabolism, which can make you feel hungrier or crave unhealthy foods. And those who are exhausted during the day from their sleep being disrupted are not as likely to exercise or take the stairs.

So how does an overweight person with sleep apnea find relief? For starters, it’s critical to talk with your doctor, who can refer you to a sleep specialist. You want to confirm that you have obstructive sleep apnea first.

“The chances of having clinically significant obstructive sleep apnea greatly increases with a BMI over 30,” said Peter Fotinakes, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, in a recent article. “If there is a threshold weight at which a person didn’t snore, then returning his or her weight below that will alleviate obstructive sleep apnea.”

If you do have obstructive sleep apnea, you may be prescribed continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy—a device you wear at night to keep your airways open. Once you can get a good night’s rest, it may be easier to drop the weight.

Foods to help you sleep

There are also nutritional changes you can make before bedtime that may help with your sleep. Anita Marlay, a dietitian in Osage Beach, Missouri, recently offered up to Lake News Online a few other dietary suggestions for better sleeping, including:

  • Avoid heavy meals at night, which can cause your body to work overtime to digest the food, and try not to eat during the hour before bed.
  • If you do eat before bed, keep it light and consider foods that contain tryptophan—like eggs, nuts, milk, cheese and bananas—which can induce drowsiness, especially when combined with a complex carbohydrate like whole-grain cereal or a slice of whole-grain toast. Or try a small glass of tart cherry juice before bed (tart cherries contain melatonin, which may help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night).
  • Avoid spicy or greasy foods that can cause acid reflux or sugary foods that can cause your energy levels to swing and keep you awake.
  • Obviously avoid caffeine before bedtime—and even longer if possible (some say you shouldn’t have food or drinks containing caffeine after 12 p.m.). Also avoid alcohol, which can cause a restless sleep.
  • And don’t knock those sleep-promoting ideas your grandmother used to pitch: a nightly cup of noncaffeinated tea or even a glass of warm milk.

“Scientifically, there may be some link between the tryptophan and melatonin content of milk and improved sleep,” the National Sleep Foundation notes. “But perhaps more powerful is the psychological link between warm milk and bedtime as a child. Just like hot tea, a warm drink of milk can provide the perfect soothing backdrop for a relaxing bedtime routine.”

If you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and prescribed CPAP treatment, a SoClean Automated CPAP Cleaner & Sanitizer Device might be a welcome way to make your daily routine simpler, and better. If you have any questions, please reach us at or (800) 341-7014.