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Did you know that approximately 20 to 30 percent of adults have obstructive sleep apnea or OSA? This condition is marked by the airway closing continually in your sleep so that air can’t normally flow in or out of your nose or mouth. OSA can be linked to heart disease, stroke and metabolic issues like type 2 diabetes.

Who Gets It?

While sleep apnea affects about three percent of people with normal body weight, over 20 percent of obese people experience this sleep disorder. Sleep apnea typically afflicts men more than women; that is until they hit menopause and also put on weight in the abdominal area.

While not everyone with sleep apnea is obese, obesity is common in sleep apnea patients. OSA is especially likely in patients who have fat accumulation in the neck, tongue and upper belly. This excess weight not only decreases the diameter of the throat but pushes against the lungs, leading to the collapse of the airway as they sleep.

Raised Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

If sleep apnea is unmanaged, you risk a spike in your blood sugar levels, stress hormones and higher blood pressure, even in a span of only a few days. Sleep apnea studies show an increase in the levels of fatty acids in the blood, insulin, blood sugar and the stress hormone cortisol in those who are not using a CPAP device to control their condition.

The New England Journal of Medicine found that 70 percent of people with sleep apnea have metabolic syndrome. Sleep apnea affects the hormones which regulate energy metabolism. The following conditions, when cropping up together, can lead to metabolic syndrome:

– Excess weight gained in the belly area
– High serum triglycerides (“bad” cholesterol)
– Low HDL cholesterol levels (“good” cholesterol)
– High blood pressure
– Elevated fasting blood sugar level

The Role of Hormones

The appetite center is related to hormone production of leptin (an appetite suppressant) and ghrelin (released from the stomach when fasting, such as the later stage of sleep, making you feel hungry).

When a person is sleep-deprived because of sleep apnea, leptin levels decrease while ghrelin increases. Leptin resistance can interfere with the body’s weight regulation and lead to weight gain. Leptin is a vital link between metabolism, sleep and function of the circadian rhythm.

While genetics and environmental factors impact metabolic syndrome, poor and disrupted sleep is a culprit as it leads to stress. This raises the hormone production of cortisol, adrenaline and ghrelin that elevate blood sugar levels as well as increase hypertension and obesity.

One thing is certain, whatever the cause of your diabetes or high blood pressure, sleep apnea will worsen your symptoms. Managing your OSA is crucial, and if you suspect you have a sleep disorder, we encourage you to have it evaluated by our sleep specialists. We look forward to helping you regain not just a healthier night’s sleep, but better overall health as well!