By now you know that how you spend your waking hours impacts your health and weight-loss goals. But how you spend your sleeping hours matters, too.
Specifically, snoring: About 45 percent of healthy U.S. adults snore occasionally, and 25 percent do it habitually , according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. And it can stand in the way of you and those last few pounds.
Being overweight puts you at an increased risk for both snoring and sleep apnea, a disorder in which we unknowingly stop breathing sporadically throughout the night.
Why We Snore
Here’s what happens: When we go to sleep, airway muscles naturally relax, explains Steven I. Altchuler, MD, PhD, a doctor in the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, MN. “In some people, they relax so much that when you take a breath in, they are very close together, and as air moves through, the walls vibrate.” (Thus, the snoring noise.) In sleep apnea, the airways might close completely. “When we gain weight, we put it on all over, including in our tongue,” Dr. Altchuler explains. “This crowds the airway even more, which means that when the walls of the airways relax, we’re more at risk for snoring as air moves through the throat.”
If left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to further sleep problems and weight gain; it may even put you at risk for more serious health conditions like heart disease. And snoring on its own can play a role in an inability to drop weight. Here’s why.
How Snoring Affects Weight Loss
You burn fewer calories at night.
When you’re snoring or having moments of decreased airflow, referred to as apneas, you’re more likely to rouse during the night, which can result in less time spent in the deep, restorative stage called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and more time in light stages of sleep, says Raj Dasgupta, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Beyond the restorative benefits it offers, REM sleep is when brain activity and calorie burn are at their highest, he explains. Your body utilizes a lot of glucose and energy and also dreams during REM sleep.
A 150-pound person who’s sleeping appropriately could burn around 50 to 60 calories a night, mainly in REM sleep, Dr. Dasgupta notes. But as he puts it, “If we’re having sleep-disordered breathing, it can make it hard for us to stay in REM sleep.” That means fewer calories burned.
Your hunger hormones wind up out of whack.
Disrupted sleep can alter the levels of two hormones related to weight regulation, explains Dr. Dasgupta. The first is leptin, a hormone that helps us feel satiated; the other is ghrelin, a hormone that makes us feel hungry. We secrete leptin in deep stages of sleep, and our bodies make more ghrelin when we’re sleep deprived. So if arousals from snoring keep us from reaching deep sleep and we’re not getting the quality shut-eye we need, we can wind up crazy hungry the next day (thanks, in part, to high levels of ghrelin encouraging us to snack more).
You’re less motivated to move.
“Anything that interrupts sleep continuity can make us feel more tired during the day time, which makes it hard for us to do the things we do to lose weight,” says Dr. Altchuler. After all, how hard is it to exercise when all you want is your bed? Even more: A small study of university students published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms in 2017 found that functioning on fewer z’s can negatively affect factors like reaction time and how hard a workout seems. (Not exactly the kind of experience you want when it comes to maintaining a healthy habit of movement.)
You’ll crave sugary, fatty foods.
If you feel as if you’re always reaching for cookies or craving pizza after a poor night’s sleep, you’re not alone. Running on fumes leads your body to hanker for high-calorie, sugary, and fatty foods. Why? “Your body is sleepy and needs that burst of energy and glucose to get energy,” explains Dr. Dasgupta.
*If you or your bed partner notice that you stop breathing—or your snoring is affecting your day-to-day activities—be sure to see a sleep specialist to rule out sleep apnea.*