Overweight and obese most likely to have sleep problems

Photo by Michael Symonds

Overweight person using a CPAP mask to improve oxygen intake

The NHS has announced that it is starting to struggle to cope with the rising cases of sleep problems that are associated with obesity. One of the most common sleep problems is sleep apnoea (also called obstructive sleep apnoea, OSA), which is when you stop breathing during sleep.

Scottish hospitals have seen a 25% rise in the number of people with sleep problems. Of these people, 80% are overweight.

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines

Often the only solution to avoid sleep apnoea is to be connected to a CPAP machine at night. This means wearing a mask all night that is powered by the mains. It literally helps you to keep breathing at night while sleeping.


Sleep problems have many knock on effects. Studies have linked a lack of sleep to obesity (making it harder to lose weight once gained) and a deterioration of artery health. Being over-tired also makes working more difficult and dangerous.

There are reports of individuals falling asleep while driving or using heavy machinary, the cause of which is likely to have been due to sleep apnoea episodes causing poor sleep. In fact the DVLA believe that 20% of all road traffic accidents are caused because the driver is tired as a result of lack of sleep.

Cure Sleep Apnoea by Losing Weight

In most cases patients who lose weight and return to a healthy weight stop suffering from sleep apnoea. Although sleep apnoea is not only caused by being overweight, obesity is a common cause for the condition.

However, although sleep apnoea is usually an easy condition to cure, obesity rates are still rising and there are now more people suffering from sleep apnoea than lung cancer (incidentally, recent figures indicate that lung cancer is finally becoming less common, mostly as the result of smoking ban).

Fat Necks Raise Risk

Men are advised to keep their collar size to below 17.5 inches (44 cm) to avoid developing sleep apnoea. Excessive fat around the neck is a sure sign that a person is very overweight and it generally equates to a waist size of 36 inches.

Do you have Sleep Apnoea?

The British Lung Foundation have developed a test that will determine if you are likely to be suffering from sleep apnoea. You can find the test here: http://www.lunguk.org/media-and-campaigning/obstructive_sleep_apnoea.

They also provide some handy sleeping tips. Some may seem obvious, but it is amazing how many people ignore these simple signals:

  • Go to bed when you feel sleepy
  • If you cannot sleep after 20 minutes in bed get up and do something boring for a while. Watch the news!
  • Try to avoid sleeping for too long in the afternoon. More than 30 minutes can cause sleeplessness
  • Develop a bedtime routine and try to go to bed at the same time each night
  • Do not drink coffee or other caffeine based drinks in the evening. Your last caffeine based drink should be no less than 6 hours before bedtime.
  • Make sure that your bed in comfy!
  • Exercise more to help control your biological clock
Really the key to avoiding sleep apnoea is to lose weight. Men should get their waists below 36 inches and women should aim for below 32 inches. If your neck is fatty then that is a sign that you still need to lose more weight.

Information from around the web on Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

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