Stop snoring, lose weight? Here's what the science has to say
How you spend your waking hours impacts your health and weight loss goals. But did you know that how you spend your sleeping hours matters too?
There are around 15 million snorers in the UK, according to the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association (BSSAA). The research shows that snoring affects 30 million of us, which means the condition also causes a “sleep deficit” for partners.
Whether you snore or are affected by snoring, it can stand in the way of you and those last few pounds.
Why do people 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 apnoea, the airways might close completely.* Being overweight is a risk factor for sleep apnoea, a disorder in which we unknowingly stop breathing sporadically throughout the night.
“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 apnoea 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.
4 ways snoring affects weight loss
Snoring affects your quality of sleep (and consequently your mood and productivity) and also features highest on the list of bedtime annoyances in a Sleep Survey by Dreams, followed by hogging the duvet and sleep talking.
1. You burn fewer calories at night.
When you’re snoring or having moments of decreased airflow, referred to as apnoeas, 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 uses a lot of glucose and energy during REM sleep, and this is also when you dream.
A 70 kilogram 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.
2. 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 snoring keep us from reaching deep sleep and we’re not getting the quality shut-eye we need, we can feel hungrier the next day (thanks, in part, to high levels of ghrelin encouraging us to snack more).
3. 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, it takes a lot of willpower to exercise when all you want is your bed! In addition, a small study of university students published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms in 2017 found that functioning on fewer zzz’s can negatively affect factors like reaction time and how hard a workout seems.
4. 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 apnoea.