Sleep apnoea, snoring and Obesity

What is sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea, also known as obstructive sleep apnoea, is a sleep disorder where your throat is partially or completely obstructed during sleep. When these obstructions occur, it can stop breathing from anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute or more1.

During sleep, you wake up briefly, then fall back asleep. These incidents can happen hundreds of times a night.

What is the link between obesity, sleep apnoea, and snoring?

One of the major contributors to sleep apnoea and snoring are obesity.

It’s estimated that 58% of moderate-to-severe sleep apnoea is caused by obesity2.

The reason is mainly because higher fat levels and decreased muscle activity in the upper respiratory tract narrow the airway3. This can also contribute to snoring as it makes your throat narrower and allows it to vibrate more easily. The narrower the throat, the louder you snore4.

What are the causes of sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea can occur at any age, although in children it’s usually because of large tonsils or adenoids5. It can run in families and can be affected by the size and positioning of your neck, jaw, tongue and tonsils. It is more likely to occur in men than women6.

You are also more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea if you smoke7, sleep on your back and use sedatives, including alcohol8. Hormone conditions such as hypothyroidism9 can also increase the risk of sleep apnoea.

What are the complications of sleep apnoea?

Sleep apnoea can increase your risk of other diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. Lack of sleep can also lead to low mood and irritability.

Studies have found that people with sleep apnoea are more likely to be involved in car accidents10

What are the treatments for sleep apnoea?

There are no cures for sleep apnoea but fortunately, it is a treatable condition. The first advice doctors often give is to lose weight11. Decreasing alcohol consumption in the evening and adjusting the sleeping position can also help11.

Other sleep apnoea treatments include a nasal continuous positive airway pressure machine which uses gentle pressure and a mask to keep your airway open overnight. There is also a mandibular advancement device or oral appliance, which is like a mouth guard. It’s fitted by a specialist dentist and helps keep your airway open11.

It’s advisable to talk to your doctor about sleep apnoea treatments and what might be best in your circumstances.

Obesity and heart disease
1 Sleep Health Foundation Obstructive Sleep Apnea Fact Sheet, 31 January 2019. Available at Accessed December 2021.

2 Young T, Peppard PE, Taheri S. Excess weight and sleep-disordered breathing. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005;99(4):1592-1599. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00587.2005

3 Jehan S, Zizi F, Pandi-Perumal SR, et al. Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Obesity: Implications for Public Health. Sleep Med Disord. 2017;1(4):00019.

4 Sleep Health Foundation Snoring Fact Sheet,22 July 2016. Available at Accessed December 2021.

5 Sleep Health Foundation Childhood Snoring and Sleep Apnea Fact Sheet, 10 March 2020. Available at  Accessed December 2021

6 Garvey JF, Pengo MF, Drakatos P, Kent BD. Epidemiological aspects of obstructive sleep apnea. J Thorac Dis. 2015;7(5):920-929. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2015.04.52

7 Wetter DW, Young TB, Bidwell TR, Badr MS, Palta M. Smoking as a risk factor for sleep-disordered breathing. Arch Intern Med. 1994;154(19):2219-2224.

8 Sleep Foundation Sleep Apnea Fact Sheet,9 July, 2021. Available at . Accessed December 2021

9 Lanfranco F. Sleep apnea syndrome and hypothyroidism. Endocrine. 2013;44(3):551-552. doi:10.1007/s12020-013-0018-8

10 Findley LJ, Suratt PM Serious motor vehicle crashes: the cost of untreated sleep apnoea Thorax 2001;56:505.

11 Sleep Health Foundation. Treatment Options for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) Fact sheet. 31 January 2019. Available Accessed December 2021.