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Men’s health: Losing weight can improve sleep and reduce the risk for sleep apnea

Photo: Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr

It’s no secret that by most measures, many Americans are overweight.

Today, an estimated 36 percent of Americans are considered obese according to the CDC, and the condition can bring a number of health issues along with it. But did you know that by losing weight you can dramatically improve your quality of sleep, reducing the risk for sleep apnea?

Eliminating sleep apnea can ultimately decrease your chances of more severe health problems including stroke, cardiovascular failure, diabetes and high blood pressure.

For men, who are more likely than women to suffer from sleep apnea, the need to lose weight is even more critical.

“Men are uniquely at an increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea due to the presence of testosterone,” said University of Minnesota Physicians sleep expert Michael Howell, M.D., assistant professor with the Department of Neurology. “For some patients losing excess weight has all but cured their sleep apnea, which in turn dramatically improved their overall health. For others, a more modest but still significant improvement was seen.”

How does weight loss reduce risk for obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by a collapse of the upper airway during sleep.  Excess weight and fatty tissues block air passage and weaken muscles in the throat and pharynx resulting in snoring, labored breathing, and excessive daytime sleepiness. By reducing the amount of fat in these critical areas, airways are clearer which allows for deeper more restful sleep (Slow Wave Sleep) as well as uninterrupted dreaming (REM sleep).

“Sleep apnea is a vicious cycle. Many patients I see are exhausted due to a poor night’s sleep and don’t have the energy to exercise and lose weight.  They subsequently gain more weight which leads to more severe sleep apnea which compounds their problems.”

To get started on a weight loss program Howell suggests having a conversation with your doctor to determine what’s right for you. If trouble persists, Howell recommends speaking with a sleep specialist to see if you have a more serious condition such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Editor’s note: Women can also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea so it is important to keep weight at a healthy level to reduce risk for sleep apnea and the health problems associated with the condition.

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