Here’s a new twist on an old adage – which came first, the weight or the snoring? Science is uncovering fascinating new information about the link between snoring and overweight. And it’s not all what you might think.
Here are great ways to get your snoring AND your weight under control – and wake up to a better tomorrow.
Statistics on Obesity and Snoring
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the rates of both obesity and sleep apnea, or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), are increasing.
Some 65% of Americans are now overweight, with about one-third of those in the obesity category. Even more ominous, obesity rates have increased substantially – from 15% of U.S. adults in 1980 to 27% in 1999. (The Centers for Disease Control notes that number is now a whopping 37%.)
Childhood obesity is rising too, with 1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 or later predicted to be diagnosed with overweight-induced Type II diabetes – a shocking number considering the naturally high metabolism of the average child.
We’re getting fatter, but how has this impacted our sleep and specifically, snoring? Snoring statistics aren’t available per se, but obstructive sleep apnea – which is typically accompanied by heavy, obstructive snoring – impacts 18 million adults in the U.S. today.
The link is clear, and the order in which it happens – obesity, then the onset of snoring – seems obvious. But is it the whole story?
Chronic Undersleeping Can Lead to Obesity
Though the quick-and-dirty explanation of obesity is a too-high food intake to activity/expenditure ratio, it may not be as easy as simply laying off the junk food, some experts are suggesting.
In an interesting article by webmd.com, experts note a link between being tired and desiring more food, in particular high-calorie, high-carbohydrate choices.
“When you have sleep deprivation…you automatically go for a bag of potato chips or other comfort foods,” notes Susan Zafarlotfi of the Institute for Sleep and Wake Disorders, Hackensack, NJ.
The mechanism isn’t yet clearly understood, but experts note that when the body is chronically tired, it looks for a “quick fix” in the form of carbohydrates or sugar. Unfortunately, in addition to packing on the pounds in short order, this type of eating typically boomerangs into fatigue within 30 minutes to two hours.
This can easily lead to napping, but the sleep is rarely restful, and you may be even more tired the next day. Even if you don’t nap, poor nutrition and too much sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to disordered sleep. “If you accumulate too much sleep debt,” Zafarlotfi states, “your body will crash.”
And as the pounds pack on, snoring only gets worse, making a full night’s sleep nothing but a far-fetched dream for sufferers.
A Vicious Cycle
All this results in a vicious cycle that goes on and on: you’re tired so you eat more; you gain weight as a result, making sleep uncomfortable – and heralding the onset of snoring, if you aren’t a snorer already.
This lack of sleep (and poor-quality sleep when you do finally doze) causes increased cravings for fast energy the following day. Unfortunately, it’s the quickest-acting carbs your body craves – and that means refined junk foods. And so the cycle continues.
Some experts point out that excess tissue seems to accumulate in the back of the mouth and the throat in some overweight individuals, obstructing air flow during sleep and making snoring worse. Others note that the pressure of excess weight can make it more difficult for the lungs and other organs to function effectively during sleep.
All this adds up to worsening sleep – and probably, a worse weight problem – as one gets older. So where does it all stop?
There IS Something You Can Do About It
So you have the bad news. Is there any hope in sight for overweight snorers?
Yes, experts claim. And believe it or not, it may actually start with addressing the sleep problems first – rather than the obesity. (Both are important, though – read the bullets below for details.)
The theory is that with better sleep, one will make better choices during the day – including eating more healthful meals and having the energy to exercise. These two simple improvements can mean a whole new life and outlook for a percentage of snore sufferers.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Have a COMPLETE physical examination AND sleep study performed. Your primary care physician should be able to lead you to a qualified sleep clinic. You need to know the exact mechanisms behind your snoring, as well as any polyps, fleshy obstructions, sinus and allergy issues or septum abnormality you may be experiencing.
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations exactly. This may mean changing your sleep position, taking allergy medications and/or the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. (Check with your insurance company – often, CPAP therapy is at least partially covered.)
- Start getting exercise. Even if you’re exhausted, exercise helps regulate the body and may produce better sleep, according to experts. It will also be a huge help toward your weight loss goal.
- Make a concerted effort to change your sleep habits. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning (including weekends and holidays). Try to phase out daytime naps if you take them – they can make it much harder to sleep at night.
- Find a weight loss program you can live with. Make sure it includes plenty of protein and a healthy amount of fat, as well as vegetables, fruits and dairy. Too many empty carbs during the day will only make the problem worse.
- Surgery may be recommended in a small percentage of snoring cases. A deviated septum, throat or nasal polyps and excessive fleshy growths in the mouth or throat are usually easily fixed and may improve your sleep tremendously.
A Better Tomorrow
Once you begin experiencing better sleep, you’ll have the energy to make positive nutritional choices as well as exercise. Give it time – if you’ve been chronically sleep deprived, your body has some catching up to do. But do start making small changes now. Don’t wait until you “feel better” to start a walking program or reduce your calorie intake. That just feeds into the cycle and may make your problem worse over time.
Most of all, find a caring doctor who will address your concerns with the dignity you deserve. You’re not alone; millions of people suffer alongside you, every day. Turn the tide and start making changes now so your tomorrow is brighter than you ever imagined.