We all have issues.
Some more than others. Today, we’re going to talk about three issues prevalent in North America:
- High blood pressure,
- and obesity (being 20% or more above your ideal weight)
In fact, these three health issues are interrelated and often found together.
- Almost 90% of people who are obese are living with type 2 diabetes and
- approximately 78% of men with high blood pressure and 65% of women with high blood pressure are obese.
“More than one billion adults worldwide are overweight, and at least 300 million of these are clinically obese,” - World Health Organization
Virtually every ounce of medical research on these health issues points to an overlap; they are all correlated and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) may play a significant role.
A primary symptom of OSA is snoring (link to previous post on snoring), but other symptoms include waking up with a sore or dry throat daily, waking up choking or gasping for air, chronic sleepiness and fatigue, and morning headaches.
Let’s dive a little deeper into how these issues might be related.
High Blood Pressure
If you already have high blood pressure, sleep apnea will make it worse. Because sleep apnea results in lowered oxygen intake during sleep, even short breaks in breathing are hard on the heart. While blood pressure drops with a stop in breathing, once it starts again the heart rate increases and the continual ups and can increase blood pressure overall. Since about 33% of people with sleep apnea also have high blood pressure and 30-50% of people with high blood pressure have sleep apnea, it’s important that patients with hypertension participate in a sleep study to determine whether or not sleep apnea is a factor at play. If it is, treating your sleep disorder will improve your blood pressure and lower your risk of stroke and heart attack.
Just like sleep apneas relationship with high blood pressure, OSA can also be correlated with diabetes. Approximately 80% of people with type 2 diabetes also have sleep apnea and about 33% of people with severe OSA end up with diabetes – again, it’s a circular pattern. While there isn’t sufficient evidence to indicate that sleep apnea causes type 2 diabetes, research shows that sleep deprivation triggers insulin resistance, which forces the body to produce more insulin, overworking the pancreas and raising blood sugar – it’s a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Because a lack of oxygen throws our bodies into fight or flight mode, we produce stress hormones in response, which raise blood sugar levels. Throw in the fatigue that comes with sleep apnea, and we’re exercising less and consuming more caffeine and sugar to stay awake. For diabetics with sleep apnea, treatment reduces insulin resistance and increases alertness and energy levels.
Once again, the relationship between sleep apnea and obesity flows both ways: obese people are four times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea and people with sleep apnea tend to gain weight and struggle to lose it. Sleep apnea wreaks havoc on the hormonal system, which can make us crave carbs, store fat, and overeat. Not to mention that the sleepiness and fatigue caused by sleep apnea prevents us from exercising, meaning that we aren’t burning calories as efficiently. Losing weight lessens sleep apnea, particularly for those with fatty deposits in their necks, and sometimes resolves it altogether, but finding the energy to work out is difficult without first treating the apnea which corrects hormonal imbalances and increases energy, making you happier and more motivated to exercise and participate in other activities.
Solving the Sleep Apnea Symptom Cycle
While high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are risk factors for sleep apnea, research shows that they are also symptoms of sleep apnea – it’s cyclical. In fact, people diagnosed with and treated for sleep apnea with a CPAP machine may experience improvements in blood pressure, reduced insulin resistance, and an increase in energy, motivation, and general wellbeing (all of which are needed in spades to stick to a healthy eating and exercise program).