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Obesity and Sleep Apnoea: What is the Connection?

obesity and obstructive sleep apnoea Sleep Apnoea

Obesity and Sleep Apnoea: What is the Connection?

There are many scenarios which can increase your likelihood of developing obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). While you may be aware that obesity is a primary cause, not everyone knows that a fat tongue is the crux of the problem.

First, let’s briefly review the symptoms associated with sleep apnoea. So, what is sleep apnoea? How does it impact your ability to obtain a solid night of rest and more importantly, how might a larger tongue exacerbate this condition?

OSA at a Glance

Sleep apnoea is defined as a narrowing of the airways that are intended to provide your lungs with oxygen. As these paths narrow, it becomes more difficult to breathe. Not only will this cause you to wake up numerous times throughout the night, but choking and snoring are also common symptoms which will further disrupt your sleep.

Although millions of individuals have already been diagnosed with OSA, it is firmly believed that millions more might not be aware that they have this condition. Thus, they may never seek the appropriate treatment options. 

Now that we have taken a brief look at sleep apnoea, let’s take a moment to appreciate how obesity can exacerbate the situation even further.

What is a Fat Tongue?

Those who are obese will be prone to numerous health issues if they do not take the proper steps to lose weight. While we often associate fat with more visible areas such as the midsection and the thighs, we need to keep in mind that this type of tissue can be distributed elsewhere throughout the body. 

In other words, those who tend to carry excess kilograms may also develop a fat tongue. 

As you may have imagined, this can further restrict your ability to obtain the proper amount of air during the overnight hours. Furthermore, let us also stress that the muscles within your tongue will relax while sleeping. 

As they relax, they can block your airways to the point where you suddenly wake up choking or gasping for breath. These are some of the reasons why doctors are now being encouraged to examine the condition of a patient’s tongue when determining whether or not OSA may be present. 

The Tip of the Proverbial Iceberg

It has been known for some time that those who are obese are much more likely to develop the symptoms associated with sleep apnoea. Not only will this impact the size of the tongue, but excess fatty tissue can also increase the thickness of the neck. 

When laying down, a wider neck can place pressure upon the windpipe and the surrounding airways. It is also important to note that fat may also be located around other areas of the respiratory tract such as the oesophagus and the pharynx. When all of these scenarios occur in synergy with one another, even mild cases of OSA can worsen within a short period of time. 

The Critical Importance of Lifestyle Changes

Some of the most common risk factors for obesity include an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, a poor diet and stress. Those who are chronically obese will likewise have increased chances of developing more serious conditions such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and diabetes. 

It should likewise be mentioned that overweight individuals are much more likely to develop sleep apnoea. This is why it is critical to make the correct lifestyle changes in advance in order to avoid potentially serious complications. What do some of the experts have to say?

Your diet is obviously important, as excess calories and “empty” carbohydrates (sugary foods) will inevitably be stored as fat. Some of the fat may be deposited within the tongue and around your airways; worsening the symptoms of OSA. 

However, this is only a single piece of a much larger puzzle. Some other powerful suggestions include:

  • Adopting a regular exercise regimen.
  • Eating smaller portions at meals.
  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Ablating bad habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables.

The fact of the matter is, these changes will make a very real difference over time. 

Three Simple Exercises

The good news is that there are also specific exercises which can help to alleviate your snoring if you happen to have a fatty tongue. Let’s take a quick look.

Please note that each of these exercises can be performed throughout the day or even as you are laying down to sleep at night:

  • Slide the tip of your tongue forward and backward along the roof of your mouth. Repeat this 20 times.
  • Press the entire surface of your tongue on the roof of the mouth. Once again, repeat 20 times.
  • Press the underside of your tongue on the floor of your mouth while ensuring that the tip remains in contact with your bottom teeth.


Do You Have Sleep Apnoea?

If you snore heavily, regularly, you may indeed have this medical condition. The only way to know is an at-home sleep test. In just a few days, you can learn if you have sleep apnoea — so you can speak with a sleep specialist and get the treatment you need.

Your body requires a good night’s sleep to stay healthy, so you can live a long life. You owe it to yourself and loved ones to learn if you have obstructive sleep apnoea — so you can get the restorative night’s sleep your body needs.

At-home sleep tests are a user-friendly and accurate method to determine your condition, so be sure to look at this option further. Life indeed goes on after sleep apnoea, and the first step is developing a proactive stance so that you can combat this condition with a sense of motivation.

To order the Intus At-Home Sleep Test: https://www.sleeptest.co.uk/product/in-home-sleep-test/


About author: Jenny Hall is a clinical manager at Intus Healthcare’s parent company, Baywater Healthcare. She has extensive specialist clinical experience from Regional Nurse Adviser through to Senior Nurse Adviser, Service Lead and Contract Manager. She has provided leadership for the Regional Nurse Advisers ensuring best practice, implementation of National Guidance and Clinical Governance. Ms. Hall has worked with Baywater Healthcare since 2013, with leadership responsibility in delivering Home Oxygen and Long-Term Conditions services. Her clinical team focuses on delivering services closer to home which offer the NHS value with optimum clinical outcomes. Previously, Ms. Hall provided leadership to Regional Nurse Advisors with Air Products, a company providing home oxygen services to Wales, East Midlands and North London. She has served as a Senior COPD National Trainer and Nurse Adviser COPD Response with Innovex, ensuring highest competencies were maintained and best practices delivered. Ms. Hall has a Ba Honours Degree as a Registered General Nurse from Oxford Brookes University and MSc Health Studies from Staffordshire University. She completed Respiratory Education and Training Courses and the Edinburgh Sleep Course. Jenny Hall’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenny-hall-34331b60/

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