Snores that kill: sleep apnea and its relationship with obesity

According to the 2016 mid-term National Health and Nutrition Survey, 27.8% of Mexico's population has a high risk of suffering obstructive sleep apnea
Snores that kill: sleep apnea and its relationship with obesity
Patient at a Sleep Clinic – Photo: Alejandro Acosta/EL UNIVERSAL
01/03/2018
11:21
Perla Miranda
Mexico City
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Since she was a teenager, Olga began to snore. Her mother complained that the sounds she made were so loud she woke her up. It's been almost two decades, Olga is 42 now and she knows that loud snoring, chronic fatigue, and sleepiness are symptoms of the condition she suffers: sleep apnea, which is related to her obesity.

After Mexico's Minister of Health issued a diabetes mellitus and obesity epidemic alert, experts have encouraged the Mexican population to improve sleeping habits to avoid this chronic and degenerative illness, given that obesity is a leading risk factor in developing sleep apnea, which in turn can lead to serious complications such as heart attacks.

According to the 2016 mid-term National Health and Nutrition Survey, 27.8% of Mexico's population has a high risk of suffering obstructive sleep apnea, a percentage which increases in people who are overweight.

Gittam Pammela Torres, head of the Sleep Clinic at the Regional Hospital Number 1 of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), explains that our sleep is comprised of hormonal cycles and that lack of adequate sleep causes several hormones to be lost, such as somatotropin (growth hormone) and melatonin, which allows people to rest.

According to the expert, if an individual sleeps between 12 and 2 in the morning every day, they miss hormonal discharges and wakes up feeling hungry and tired.

“So it's obvious we'll crave fattier foods. This is how sleep disorders cause overweight and obesity; it's the link between these diseases,” she says.

Pável Villegas, of the Overweight and Obesity Clinic, explains that there is a correlation between obesity and sleep disorders.

“The more overweight someone is, the more troubles they'll have breathing. Some people with morbid obesity have no other choice but to sleep seating down; this is why losing weight would help them improve this situation.

Sleep apnea, in itself, is a sleep disorder in which people stop breathing for, at least, 10 seconds, and is heavily linked to obesity and overweight.

To treat sleep apnea, according to Villegas, it's necessary to undergo a comprehensive treatment, as a healthy diet and sleep monitoring are required.

Gabriela González, an expert in metabolic diseases, explains that obstructive sleep apnea is caused by obesity because “the added weight on the neck overweight people develop obstructs the trachea when lying down and this causes disruptions in airflow and lack of oxygen. When people feel they're not breathing they wake up.”

The expert recommends improving eating habits and getting adequate sleep to prevent the condition.

“We're a growing and active population. In the last 50 years, people have lost between four and five hours of sleep and statistics show diseases such as diabetes, hypertension have spiked, and this is related to our not sleeping adequately,” said Torres.

The IMSS has developed a 21-day treatment for sleep apnea, which consists of providing mechanical ventilation equipment to patients, so they can prevent diabetes and hypertension.

“[Patients] take the machines home and use it four hours each night, for 21 days. The machines detect when someone has stopped breathing and automatically turns on,” Torres explains.

Olga has already undergone the 21-day treatment. She claims she is able to sleep better now and feels more energetic. The next step for her is to lose weight so she can “sleep better and lead a healthier life,” she says.

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