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Obesity and Sleep Apnea

Obesity and Sleep Apnea

According to recent numbers, somewhere between 50 and 70 million people suffer from sleep disorders. And although they can significantly affect the quality of a person’s life, only one can actually end it. Sleep apnea is a potentially deadly sleeping disorder that is unfortunately on the rise in the United States. Basically, it occurs when a person’s airway becomes obstructed while asleep and he or she simply stops breathing. But apnea is only fatal in rare and extreme cases. More commonly, people simply wake up many times and are deprived of a good night’s sleep. In this article we are going to take a look at the primary reason why apnea is becoming an ever more common disorder.

For people who suffer from sleep apnea, the results or symptoms of this condition are what you would expect from anyone who has been consistently deprived of sleep. They complain about awful headaches at all times of the day, unending fatigue, as well as moodiness and even changes in their personalities. As you can imagine, constant fatigue has a number of inconvenient and even dangerous implications. For starters, people who suffer from sleep apnea are far more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel than the average driver. They can also fall asleep at work, a situation which may not go over well with their boss, or could potential be dangerous if they work on a construction site or operate a vehicle.

So, what is the reason behind the disorder’s growing numbers. In a word: obesity. The truth is that sleep apnea is far more common in overweight and especially obese individuals of any age or either sex. Why is this? Well, really it has to do with the disproportionate size of a large person’s tonsils, tongue, as well as the fat on the neck. These differences make breathing more difficult for obese people, especially when they sleep. As you might expect, for a person to get a good night’s sleep their airway must be clear and relaxed. But for larger people, oftentimes the pharyngeal or throat muscles simply cannot relax because it is being weighed down and obstructed by these enlarged parts. In fact, a person’s neck circumference is the most common predictor of sleep apnea. Generally speaking, if a person has a neck circumference of over 17 inches, he is quite likely to suffer from this disorder.

Another unfortunate side effect of the disorder, in addition to the sleepless nights, is increased eating. Obviously, if a person spends more time awake with nothing to do and he already has an eating disorder or a weight problem, the likelihood that he will engage in some nocturnal noshing is quite high. And of course this increased eating leads to additional weight gain, which simply exasperates the condition and leads to more midnight snacking sessions. It is the very definition of a vicious circle.

Other symptoms and conditions that are closely related to sleep apnea include: increased risk of blood pressure or hypertension, high cholesterol, and adult onset diabetes.

If you fear that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, it is important that you speak with your doctor immediately. Because doctors are seldom experts in the field of sleep disorders, oftentimes he will recommend that you visit a specialist or a sleep lab. At these labs sleep studies can be performed to determine exactly what is affecting your sleep. The studies are pretty basic and often call for the patient to spend the night under professional observation while monitors keep track of your oxygen intake to determine if you are suffering from apnea. If it turns out you are diagnosed with the disorder, the most common treatment method is a special type of mask that you will have to wear at night to increase airflow. At this point, however, your doctors will also strongly encourage you to lose some weight. They may even recommend a diet and exercise program.

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