Alaska Sleep Education Center

Ho Ho Holiday Weight Gain and Sleep Apnea

Posted by Kayla LeFevre on Dec 23, 2018 2:00:00 PM

Holiday season is upon us, and the end of the year is possibly the busiest time for all of us.

We kick off the start of this season with Halloween, a night dedicated to costumes and candy followed by a week of finishing off the candy that ghouls didn’t ring your doorbell to claim. Shortly after that comes Thanksgiving, a day to harvest our work’s bounty with paid time off to sit around and do nothing else but eat and eat and eat.

santa-284x300Next is Christmas, where again we eat and eat and eat with family. Oh, and open presents too, which is sometimes more candy and treats to eat. The season finally concludes with New Year’s, where (again) we eat, plus drink, and be merry to ring in the new year.

At the end of this wonderful season, many people may step on the scale and discover that the celebrations translate into weight gain. It turns out that “on average, people’s weight increased about 1.3 pounds” during Christmas and New Year alone. And that’s not even counting the other holidays. After all, with all that eating and drinking and goody-snacking, it’d be a Christmas miracle if you didn’t gain any weight.

But holiday weight gain is not just a problem for your wardrobe – it could also cause or worsen sleep apnea. And sleep apnea can cause weight gain. Which can cause worse apnea and more sleep deprivation, which can lead to even more weight gain… and so on and so forth.

The Science Behind It

When it comes to the cycle of weight gain and sleep loss, it all boils down to three hormones: ghrelin, leptin and insulin.

Ghrelin is a hormone that tells our bodies to eat. Leptin is a hormone that tells our bodies to stop eating. And insulin promotes the release of leptin while shuttling glucose to our cells.

So what does that mean in the real world? When we’re sleep deprived, our body sends out more ghrelin and less leptin, meaning we’re told to eat more and to stop eating less often. And insulin helps the release of leptin, so it doesn’t help that insulin will also fail to stop us from eating, let alone depriving our cells of energy.

It makes sense that with all of this combined, our lack of sleep turns into more on our plate and even more on our scales. The worst part about this is that gaining weight can lead to sleep deprivation. Basically, gaining weight leads to sleeping less; sleeping less leads to gaining weight. See the cycle?

Weight Gain and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is the condition when airways are obstructed or collapse multiple times during a sleep cycle, lasting anywhere from several seconds to a minute. These occurrences can happen up to 30 times per hour and cause the sleeper to feel foggy and fatigue during wake hours. Other long-term side effects can even include damages to blood circulation, leading to hypertension and heart disease.

And when you gain excessive weight, your risk of developing sleep apnea increases. Even having a neck size of 17.5 inches or greater can be an indication that you’re at risk. But luckily, even losing just five to ten percent body weight can help avoid these developments.

What You Can Do


While it can be nearly impossible to avoid indulgences this time of year, there are a few small things you can incorporate into your daily activities to help offset the effects of gaining too much weight.

Eat Well

Unless you lock yourself up in your room and avoid all family completely, it’s hard to reframe from eating potatoes and pies during this time of year. But when there’s not a gathering, try to be mindful of what you are eating.

Eat plenty of large salads and snack on fruit in between holiday dinners. Get grilled chicken instead of fried, a BLT salad instead of sandwich, small fries instead of a large, water instead of a soda, and a vodka tonic instead of a beer.

If you’re sweet tooth is aching but the family party is still days away, then nibble on dark chocolate that has less sugar than milk chocolate, or even candies with nuts in them so that you’re at least getting some protein.

Some studies have even shown that cutting back on meat and dairy in your diet can help to reduce your blood pressure, something that can also create a vicious sleep apnea cycle. At the very least, incorporating a more vegetarian-friendly diet encourages you to eat more fruits and veggies, which have less calories.

Move Often

Don’t expect to actually lose any weight during this season, but try to offset excessive gain by moving around when you can. If fitting in a gym session means missing out on family time, then find activities you can all do together.

Give the game Just Dance for a Christmas present and dance with a cousin, or even find videos online. At the very least (and almost bare minimum), grab a sibling and reminisce while walking around the block.

And don’t worry about how much time you have. Doing two 15-minute sessions count as 30 minutes of activity a day. Plus, any movement is better than no movement at all.

Sleep More

The most obvious approach to resolving a lack of sleep would be catching some ZZZs when you can. After all that turkey, it shouldn’t be hard to find yourself snoozing off on the couch.

Long Term Solutions

Of course, just sleeping more doesn’t mean you start to lose weight. But improving one usually improves the other. And simply being aware of the correlation can help you to avoid pitfalls in your progress, both for weight loss and sleep therapy.

Sleep apnea is no joke, and treating it takes more than just a cat nap here and there. So if you do find that you’ve developed any sleep deprivation, disorders or even Obstruction Sleep Apnea, then you’ll want to visit a sleep clinic sooner or later.

It’s possible that depending on your circumstances, you may be asked to participate in a sleep study. Be prepared to invest time with your doctor to find long-lasting sleep solutions that help you find better rest the entire year, not just for the holidays.

Luckily, our sleep experts here at Alaska Sleep Clinic are well-trained to battle any challenge you may be experiencing. If you live in the Anchorage, Alaska area, then be sure to call today for a free 10-minute consultation.

Chronic Drowsiness

Topics: weight, holidays

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