Can Skinny People Have Sleep Apnea?

Can Skinny People get sleep apnea

There are many reasons why a person might suffer from sleep apnea but one of the most commonly recognized is being obese, or even slightly overweight.

This stereotype of the sleep apnea patient may not necessarily be correct and in this article, we want to take a look at whether this is a condition that only affects people with weight issues or whether skinny people can fall victim to sleep apnea too.

If you have ever associated sleep apnea and being overweight, you may be surprised.

Why Do Overweight People Suffer From Sleep Apnea?

There are many ways in which being overweight can have a negative effect on your health and it’s right to say that sleep apnea is one of these ways.

Carrying a lot of excess weight can put pressure on various areas of the body, one of these is the soft tissues which can be found in the mouth and nose. Quite simply, the soft tissues in and around the airways in an overweight person are much more than a person of a healthy weight. These heavier than usual tissues can obstruct the airways of the patient which in turn causes difficulty breathing, especially whilst asleep.

For most of us, we sleep lying down and these soft tissues in your nose and mouth which are enlarged due to being overweight, can put pressure on your airways in this reclined position.

If you do suffer with weight problems, you will likely find breathing more difficult even when you are awake and so sleep apnea as a result of your weight is a common issue.

Sleep Apnea And Obesity Facts

Obesity is a growing problem in the US with over 40% of Americans being classed as obese as of 2020. It has been seen that the chances of developing obstructive sleep apnea are increased by a shocking 25-45% showing that there is indeed an obvious link between the two conditions.

If these statistics were not surprising enough, it is thought that over 70% of adults who suffer from sleep apnea also suffer from weight related issues. That being said, for most patients, losing weight can be a solution for their problems with sleep apnea. There are some cases in which this is not a solution, but for these patients, there are likely other underlying health problems which contribute to their sleep apnea.

Does Losing Weight Help Sleep In Other Ways?

As we have discussed, losing weight can be a helpful solution for those who suffer from sleep apnea. However, there are other health benefits which are associated with weight loss that can also show massive improvements in your sleep.

For example, patients who lose weight will also see a reduction in their cholesterol levels, which when higher can interfere with a good night’s sleep. These lowered, more healthy levels can provide patients with better quality and more consistent sleep. Despite this not being a direct problem associated with sleep apnea, it does show that weight loss can have a greater benefit for sleep patterns than simply the reduction of the soft tissues in the nose and mouth.

So, Can ‘Skinny’ People Have Sleep Apnea?

It would be completely unfair to say that sleep apnea will only ever affect those who are either overweight or obese. Whilst this can cause sleep apnea, there are a wealth of other conditions and lifestyles that can play a factor in whether or not a person suffers from sleep apnea.

So, in short – yes a skinny person can have sleep apnea. Let’s dive a little deeper and find out exactly why this might be.

Other Conditions That Can Cause Sleep Apnea In ‘Skinny’ People

If you are someone who does not have problems with their weight and have noticed any of the following symptoms, you may be questioning whether sleep apnea could be the cause.

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Snoring
  • Episodes where the breathing stops during sleep
  • Headaches in the morning
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating in the night
  • Waking with a sore throat or a dry mouth
  • Waking in the night with shortness of breath or gasping for air

Once you have assessed your symptoms, the next question to ask is whether you have any other health conditions or whether there is a possibility that you may.

Enlarged Tonsils

The tonsils are glands which sit in the back of the throat and some people have naturally larger ones than others. If this is the case, the enlarged tonsils can obstruct the airways and in turn be a factor in sleep apnea.

Down’s Syndrome

For those with a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome, sleep apnea can be a common problem. This is due to a variety of physical problems such as an enlarged tongue which can block the airways or a decrease in the muscle tone of the airways.

Physical Features Not Related To A Medical Condition

Some people are simply more prone to sleep apnea as a result of their natural physical make up that has no relation to any medical condition.

It has been observed that sleep apnea is more prominent in those with a round head, thinner airways, a thicker set neck or a deviated septum. All of these features can lead to obstructions in the airway and regardless of whether the patient is obese or not, can lead to sleep apnea.

Nasal Congestion

For some people, nasal congestion can be as a result of their natural physiology. However, other people may suffer from this type of congestion for other reasons. These could include allergies and hayfever as well as continued respiratory tract infections such as the common cold. When your nasal passage is continually blocked, sleep apnea becomes much more of a threat.


For those who smoke, sleep apnea can also become a problem and this has no bearing on whether the patient struggles with weight issues. Heavy drinking can also contribute to sleep apnea as well as a whole host of other health issues.


It may come as a surprise to learn that sleep apnea is much more common in men. However, the chances of developing the condition for females rises once they reach the point of menopause.

You may also find that if sleep apnea runs in your family, you are more at risk of having the condition yourself, regardless of your weight or gender.


Asthma, much like sleep apnea, is a condition which affects the patient’s ability to breathe, The condition is an inflammation of the airways and there have been studies which have shown that those who suffer with asthma may be more likely to develop sleep apnea as a result.

High Blood Pressure

There is much evidence to suggest that people who suffer from high blood pressure are much more likely to develop problems with sleep apnea.

Can Sleep Apnea Be Solved In ‘Skinny’ People?

We have mentioned how those who are suffering from weight related sleep apnea can attempt to lose weight as a way of managing the condition. In most cases, this does resolve the problem, however if the overweight person has any of the other conditions that we have discussed, sleep apnea may remain a problem.

For those who are of a healthy weight, their sleep apnea may or may not be resolved depending on the underlying cause. For example, those who suffer with sleep apnea as a result of a birth defect such as a Down’s Syndrome, will find that, unfortunately the condition can not be cured.

For patients with enlarged tonsils and other physical problems that can be treated, sleep apnea may be cured through surgery or other medical intervention.

If a person without weight problems is suffering from sleep apnea as a result of their lifestyle, such as drinking too much alcohol or smoking, the condition might be corrected through lifestyle changes. However, it is important to note that excessive use of these substances can potentially cause permanent, irreversible damage.


Whilst sleep apnea may commonly be associated with being overweight, this is not always the cause of the condition. Sleep apnea can be a problem for many people regardless of their weight or problems with obesity.

Slimmer people can be just as easily affected with the condition as a result of many health conditions ranging from birth defects to lifestyle choices.

Oftentimes, sleep apnea can be successfully managed by losing weight, however if there are underlying conditions, this may not be the


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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