Medical researchers have discovered snoring is a lot of work.  Snorers burn as many as 373 more calories during sleep each night than people who sleep more soundly.  That’s about as much as a person would burn during 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at a gym.  This latest insight into the mystery that is sleep only deepens the mystery itself.  In spite of the extra calories burned, snorers are more often battling excess weight than non-snorers.  In fact, the heavier the snorer, the heavier the snoring.

Dr. Eric Kezirian, University of California, San Francisco, wrote in the latest issue of the journal, ‘Archives of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery,’ that the extra calories expended during a fitful night’s sleep may be part of the nervous system’s response to sleep of poor quality.  A rattled nervous system may be part of the reason snorers often feel sluggish, fatigued, and famished the during the day.

Kezirian’s research team measured calories expended as 212 study participants rested.  Sleep habits were compared to calories burned during rest.

The average participant burned 1,763 calories over the course of a restful day.  Participants with sleep apnea, a severe form of snoring associated with heart attack and stroke, burned an average of 1,999 calories compared to the 1,626 calories burned by the most gentle snoring.  The difference between very light snoring and severe sleep apnea (373 calories) can fuel 30 minutes of vigorous activity.

But most people with sleep apnea are also obese, a second chronic medical condition associated with heart attack and stroke.  Sleep expert John Stradling says even his patients who have managed to treat their sleep apnea effectively have trouble losing excess pounds.  He offers these three theories as to why snorers and apnea sufferers burn so many calories during sleep but don’t lose weight:

  1. Time spent in deepest sleep is restricted.  It’s at this stage of sleep where, normally, body temperature drops lowest and other body functions become slowest, thereby burning fewer calories in the process.
  2. The struggle to breathe consumes more calories than restful sleep but the effects of sleep deprivation distort the appetite and leave the patient exhausted during the day.
  3. Interruptions in sleep, which can sometimes seem violent, trigger surges in adrenaline, a stress-related hormone that speeds up metabolism.

Stradling, a professor at Oxford University’s John Radcliffe Hospital, warns against the expectation of using sleep apnea as a means of weight loss.  Most sufferers develop a rather insatiable appetite, quite likely a response to sleep deprivation.  They also suffer a diminished sense of will power and most are just too fatigued to even consider exercise.  A combination of these apnea symptoms makes losing or maintaining weight quite difficult.