Ozempic, one of the brand names for the drug semaglutide, has taken the world by storm. What started as a diabetes medication is now said to be the weight loss drug of choice for celebrities, and videos on TikTok about how the drug helps with weight loss have hundreds of millions of views.
Users say Ozempic — and the higher-dose version of the same drug, Wegovy — have helped them shed the pounds almost effortlessly. But are they safe? And can they help with sleep apnea, the sleep disorder that can be improved by weight loss?
Below, we’ll dive into what Ozempic and Wegovy are, what they do, and whether they can help sleep apnea. Plus, we’ll share some proven treatments for sleep apnea and how the RISE app can help.
Heads-up: Ozempic and Wegovy are still relatively new drugs, so more research needs to be done on how they could help those with sleep apnea. We’ve rounded up what we know so far, and we’ll keep this post updated as more research comes out.
Another heads-up: Ozempic and Wegovy are two different versions of the same drug, semaglutide. Wegovy is simply a higher dose. So, while we mention Ozempic often, we’re really talking about semaglutide in both its branded forms.
Ozempic is one of the brand names for the drug semaglutide. It’s an injectable drug that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for type 2 diabetes mellitus.
It helps type 2 diabetics manage their blood sugar levels, and it can reduce their risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke if they have heart disease. It can also be taken alongside other diabetes medications like metformin.
Novo Nordisk manufactures Ozempic in a 0.5, 1, or 2-milligram dose of semaglutide for diabetes. When weight loss was found as a surprising side effect, the pharmaceutical company created Wegovy, a 2.4-milligram dose of semaglutide for weight loss in those with obesity.
Wegovy got FDA approval in 2021 for weight management. But only for those who are obese and have at least one weight-related condition like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol.
So, why are some people turning to Ozempic for weight loss and not Wegovy? Ozempic can be more readily available than Wegovy, and it still promotes weight loss as it can suppress appetite.
Ozempic is also being increasingly prescribed off-label by doctors. This is when a drug is prescribed for a purpose other than the one it was designed for. Doctors may prescribe Ozempic for weight loss in those without diabetes.
Ozempic isn’t always covered by insurance, especially when it’s prescribed off-label, but that hasn’t stopped it from exploding in popularity. Ozempic has become so popular as a weight loss drug that there’s a short supply of it.
Ozempic can help manage diabetes and can promote weight loss, and Wegovy can help obese people lose large amounts of weight. Here’s how the active ingredient in both, semaglutide, works.
Semaglutide is part of a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 receptor agonists). Beyond semaglutide, this class includes drugs like liraglutide and dulaglutide.
GLP-1 receptor agonists stimulate insulin secretion when you eat, a process that is often blunted or doesn’t happen at all in type 2 diabetics. It helps to lower blood sugar levels and keep them under control.
It also affects hunger signals in the brain and slows stomach emptying, meaning your appetite is reduced, you feel increased satiety (or fullness), and you find it much easier to eat fewer calories. It may even change your taste. The drug has been said to make certain foods taste disgusting to you and it can change your food preferences.
For example, a 2017 study found weekly 1-milligram doses of semaglutide helped obese adults feel reduced hunger and food cravings, and have lower preferences for high-fat foods. After 12 weeks, participants lost about 11 pounds.
Semaglutide has been shown to lead to significant weight loss in obese people. A 2021 study gave obese adults a once-a-week 2.4-milligram dose of semaglutide. They also received monthly counseling sessions on lifestyle interventions to help them stick to a reduced-calorie diet and increase their exercise. Over the next 68 weeks, participants lost about 34 pounds compared to those taking a placebo who lost an average of 6 pounds.
A 2023 review of semaglutide studies found the drug helped those with and without diabetes lose weight.
This weight loss could not only help people with obesity, it could prevent the health problems that can come with obesity like:
Research into semaglutide is extremely new, and much of it has been funded by the manufacturer of Ozempic and Wegovy, Novo Nordisk. Essentially, there’s a lot more we have to learn about the drugs.
As with any drug, semaglutide comes with side effects.
The potential side effects of semaglutide include:
Some of these side effects may be avoided or reduced by starting on a low dose and slowly increasing it.
More serious side effects include:
The 2023 review we mentioned earlier states “gastrointestinal adverse effects” as the main side effect.
The FDA reports that in a pool of controlled trials, gastrointestinal adverse reactions occurred more frequently among patients receiving Ozempic than placebo (placebo 15.3%, Ozempic 0.5 mg 32.7%, Ozempic 1 mg 36.4%), with the majority of reports of nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea occurring during dose escalation. Amongst the GI side effects, nausea is reported most frequently.
In a trial with Ozempic 1 mg and 2 mg, gastrointestinal adverse reactions occurred more frequently among patients receiving Ozempic 2 mg (34.0%) vs Ozempic 1 mg (30.8%).
These symptoms are often mild or moderate, however, and can get better with time without needing to stop the medication. It may also take five weeks (or sometimes longer) for symptoms to clear up when you stop taking semaglutide.
Even if they’re mild, these symptoms can easily affect your day-to-day quality of life and sleep. Issues like diarrhea and acid reflux can keep you up, causing sleep deprivation and tanking your energy levels, productivity, and overall health and wellness.
The drug is relatively new, so we don’t have long-term studies looking into safety and side effects yet. This is especially so when it comes to populations not included in clinical trials.
You should take semaglutide under medical supervision to monitor your side effects and interactions with any other medication you’re on. Speak to a doctor if you’re experiencing side effects. They may be able to adjust the dose of other medications or supplements you’re taking or suggest over-the-counter meds to help.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to temporarily stop breathing throughout the night. You may stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer, and when your brain finally realizes what’s happening, it wakes you up to kickstart your breathing.
The symptoms of sleep apnea include:
Sleep apnea can lead to serious health conditions like stroke, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and all-cause mortality.
We’ve covered how to know if you have sleep apnea here.
Obesity is a risk factor for sleep apnea: the more overweight you are, the more likely you are to develop sleep apnea and the worse the condition can be.
Fat can build up in the airways, making them more prone to collapsing during the night and cutting off your breathing. Fat can also build up in the tongue and make it more likely to fall and block your airways. And abdominal fat may put pressure on the chest wall and decrease airway size, making sleep apnea more likely.
Weight loss is an effective treatment for sleep apnea. It may not get rid of the disorder altogether, but it has been shown to reduce the symptoms.
One study found when obese adults went through a two-year weight reduction program, they lost weight and saw a reduction in sleep apnea events. A meta-analysis found weight loss through bariatric surgery can reduce how many sleep apnea episodes happen each night by about 38 an hour. The meta analysis did clarify that despite the improvement, the average remaining events still qualified as moderate sleep apnea and required patients to continue to get other treatment.
A paper on the topic states that weight reduction is a “very effective treatment” for overweight patients with sleep apnea, and goes so far as to say that it should always be included in the treatment of the sleep disorder when sleep apnea is linked to excess weight.
Want to dive deeper? We’ve covered more on sleep apnea and weight gain here.
It’s clear weight loss may help with sleep apnea in those who are overweight. But weight loss is hard at the best of times, and it’s even harder when sleep apnea is messing with your sleep and weight management efforts.
This is where there’s promise for semaglutide drugs. They may be useful for those who are obese, but can’t lose weight with sleep apnea, or those who are overweight and can’t use other sleep apnea treatments like a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to manage their symptoms.
Semaglutide can also help users lose significant amounts of weight. And larger weight losses, such as 10% or more of your body weight, can lead to greater improvements in sleep apnea symptoms.
But what does the research say? There’s not a lot of it, but we’ll get into what we know so far.
Glucose-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) is a hormone found in the intestines that plays a role in how glucose levels are regulated in the body.
Your levels of GLP-1 might be thrown off if you’re sleep deprived. Research shows sleep loss delays the peak release of GLP-1, which may increase how elevated your blood sugar is after a meal and for how long it’s elevated for.
GLP-1 runs on a circadian rhythm, a roughly 24-hour cycle, with levels being at their highest in the middle of the day. If you’re sleeping at odd times, this too may throw the hormone out of whack.
Research has found a link between natural GLP-1 levels and sleep apnea. Increasing sleep apnea severity is associated with lower GLP-1 response to glucose challenge (or how your body responds to increased blood sugar).
Therefore, increasing the GLP-1 levels of those with abnormal glucose tolerance may help if they have severe sleep apnea. This is another reason why the GLP-1 receptor agonists may be an effective treatment for sleep apnea, but more research needs to be done. Below, what we know so far.
So, does Ozempic help sleep apnea? The class of drug both Ozempic and Wegovy belong to, GLP-1 receptor agonists, are promising.
One study saw patients with sleep apnea take a daily dose of GLP-1 receptor agonists for four weeks. At the end of the experiment, 70% saw their apnea–hypopnea index (AHI), which is a measure of how many sleep apnea episodes you get per hour of sleep, reduced by 20 or so events an hour. There was no change in the control group who didn’t receive the drug. While promising, the study was extremely small, including only 27 participants.
One 2022 paper on the topic states that GLP-1 receptor agonists may help those with sleep apnea and other health issues (like obesity or type 2 diabetes) as the drug can help improve “obstructive sleep apnea-related apnea–hypopnea index (AHI), control diabetes without hypoglycemic risks, lower weight, blood pressure and lipids, and reduce subsequent risk of stroke and heart attack.”
GLP-1 receptor agonists may be beneficial for those with sleep apnea as the drugs can help treat multiple conditions at the same time.
Those suffering from sleep apnea often have comorbidities including type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, and cardiovascular diseases. GLP-1 receptor agonists may help to treat more than one of these health problems, preventing the need to be on multiple medications, which comes with the risk of meds interacting badly with each other.
Another promising study? A 2021 study found semaglutide can reduce fat in the tongue, which may stop the tongue from blocking your airways at night and help those with obesity-related sleep apnea. But, once again, more research needs to be done. This study was small — only 25 participants this time — and it was done in obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome, so it’s not clear if the drug could have the same effect in those without the health condition.
Liraglutide, another type of GLP-1 receptor agonist, may help those with sleep apnea. Liraglutide suppresses appetite, and it’s used as a treatment for type 2 diabetes in lower doses and weight loss in higher doses, just like semaglutide.
It has been linked to sleep improvements. A 2023 study on rats found liraglutide increased the amount of non-rapid-eye-movement sleep (NREM sleep) they got. And another study found three months of treatment with liraglutide reduced excessive daytime sleepiness in those with both obesity and type 2 diabetes.
It’s been linked to sleep apnea, too. A study from 2016 looked at obese adults with moderate or severe sleep apnea. They were given 3 milligrams of liraglutide for 32 weeks while they cut their calories and exercised.
At the end of the experiment, those taking liraglutide had 12.2 fewer sleep apnea events per hour compared to 6.1 fewer in the group taking a placebo. They also lost more weight — losing 5.7% of their body weight compared to 1.6% in the placebo group — and had greater improvements in their blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
One of the limitations of the study, however, was that it was only 32 weeks long, so maximum weight loss and its effect on sleep apnea symptoms couldn’t be measured. About 23% of participants across both the liraglutide and placebo groups also dropped out of the study before completion, which is common in sleep apnea trials as sticking to overnight sleep monitoring for the study is tough.
That’s not the only study on liraglutide, though. Research from 2022 looked at those with type 2 diabetes and severe sleep apnea. They were given liraglutide or a different drug treatment and used a CPAP machine. After three months of treatment, body mass index (BMI), AHI, and blood pressure were significantly lower in the liraglutide group when compared to their baseline measurements.
This study was also small — only 90 people — and it only included those with type 2 diabetes and severe sleep apnea, so more research is needed. It’s not clear if liraglutide could help those with mild or moderate sleep apnea, those with the sleep disorder who aren’t diabetic, or those who aren’t using a CPAP machine while also taking the drug.
Other diabetes medications have also been researched for those with sleep apnea. A 2020 study looked at empagliflozin, an oral medication used to lower blood sugar and reduce the health complications of diabetes. Empagliflozin can also reduce waist circumference and body weight.
Participants with both diabetes and cardiovascular disease were given 10 or 25 milligrams of empagliflozin or a placebo daily. Over an average of 3.1 years, taking empagliflozin led to a larger reduction in weight in participants with sleep apnea compared to those without. The drug also significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular events, hospitalization for heart failure, deterioration of kidney function, and mortality, regardless of whether participants had sleep apnea or not.
Ultimately, the study found empagliflozin may help reduce the risk of new onset of sleep apnea. But more research is needed.
While there’s early promise GLP-1 receptor agonists may help sleep apnea, there’s indication it may not be a short-term treatment. You may have to take it for life for it to be effective — after all, it was originally designed for those with diabetes.
A study published in 2021 looked at what happens when you stop taking semaglutide. Participants got a shot once a week for 20 weeks, then a portion of them were switched to a placebo, while the rest carried on having semaglutide injections for another 48 weeks. Lifestyle intervention, or diet and exercise, continued in both groups.
Those who stopped the treatment gained weight, whereas those who continued taking semaglutide lost weight. So, if the drug helps your sleep apnea because you’ve lost weight, you may have to continuously take it to prevent regaining the weight and reversing any sleep apnea improvements. It’s worth noting, however, that other sleep apnea treatments, like CPAP machines and oral appliances, also require long term use, while surgeries to lose weight or remove soft tissue from the back of the mouth, soft palate, or throat, for example, are permanent.
GLP-1 receptor agonists, like Ozmepic and Wegovy, may be able to help those with sleep apnea, especially those who are obese and need to lose weight to improve their symptoms.
But, before you rush off to get a prescription, there are a few potential problems:
Finally, we asked our sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, what he thought about semaglutide and sleep apnea. Here’s what he had to say:
“While I have not prescribed it yet, I am aware of the surging popularity of it for weight loss and growing evidence to help with sleep apnea. I have recommended people to consult with their PCP or endocrinologist if it would be right for them, but in the future I may prescribe it for my own patients.”
Looking to treat your sleep apnea without turning to semaglutide? Your first stop should be speaking with your doctor. They can go over the best treatment options for you. You may be recommended several treatments to improve the sleep disorder.
Here are some of the most proven sleep apnea treatments:
This machine pushes air into your airways as you sleep to help keep them open. Different types of CPAP machines are available, including a full-face mask and nasal-only mask.
These are specially fitted devices, similar to a retainer or mouth guard, that work by holding your tongue down or bringing your jaw forward to create more space in your airways.
Exercise can not only help you lose weight and fall asleep, one study found it was associated with a reduced incidence of mild and moderate sleep-disordered breathing. Decreasing exercise, on the other hand, was associated with worsening AHI scores.
Intense physical activity close to bedtime can keep you up, though. We’ve covered the best time to work out here. The RISE app can tell you the exact time you should avoid working out to protect your much-needed sleep.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late workouts reminder.
Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you’ve missed out on recently. We measure it over 14 nights. It’s compared to how much sleep you need, also known as your sleep need.
One small study found when participants only slept four hours a night for six nights they experienced more sleep apnea episodes. They also reported feeling more tired — unsurprisingly — and spent more time snoring during the night.
The RISE app can tell you what your individual sleep need is and work out how much sleep debt you’re carrying. We recommend keeping this below five hours to maximize your health and energy levels.
Got more than five hours of sleep debt? Here’s how to pay it back:
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
We’ve covered how to get rid of sleep apnea in more detail here.
Getting enough sleep is essential for your energy levels, performance, and overall health and wellness. It’s also a key part of weight loss. Sleep deprivation makes losing weight harder to do, and can cause additional weight gain. We’ve covered more about the sleep and weight loss connection here.
But getting enough sleep when you have sleep apnea can feel impossible. One thing to focus on? Sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene is the set of habits you can do each day to help you fall asleep more easily and wake up less often throughout the night. If you have sleep apnea, this will stop anything else from getting in the way of your sleep, and make sure the sleep you do get is as restorative as possible.
Here’s what to do:
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one to make them more effective.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Semaglutide drugs show promise as a sleep apnea treatment as they can help obese people lose significant amounts of weight, and weight loss has been shown to improve sleep apnea. But the science proving they work and that they’re safe for those with the sleep disorder isn’t there yet (we know a bit more about GLP-1 receptor agonists more broadly).
Speak to your healthcare provider if you have sleep apnea to find the best treatment options for you. This may include medication, sleeping with a CPAP machine, or lifestyle interventions like losing weight through diet and exercise.
Keeping your sleep debt low can also reduce sleep apnea symptoms and improving your sleep hygiene can help you get the sleep and energy you need, whether you’re taking semaglutide or not.
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have and track it as you work to pay it back. RISE can also guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you fall and stay asleep each night, helping you make the most of the sleep you get with sleep apnea.
In some people, sleep apnea may go away if they lose weight. But in most cases, weight loss can improve sleep apnea, but not get rid of it completely.
More research needs to be done into medications that can help with sleep apnea. Sulthiame, an epilepsy drug, has been shown to reduce sleep apnea events by more than 20 an hour. Liraglutide, a diabetes drug, can reduce sleep apnea events and body weight when used with a reduced-calorie diet and exercise. Antidepressants, hormone therapy, and allergy and asthma drugs may also help.
Semaglutide causes weight loss as it suppresses hunger and can change your taste and food preferences. A once-a-week 2.4-milligram dose of semaglutide was shown to help obese people lose about 34 pounds over 68 weeks of treatment when used in conjunction with a reduced-calorie diet and exercise.
The benefits of semaglutide for weight loss include losing weight and reducing the risk of obesity-related medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. It may also help reduce sleep apnea, but more research needs to be done to confirm.
Ozempic was initially developed as a diabetes drug, but if you take it when you don’t have diabetes, it can help you lose weight and therefore it may help to reduce obesity-related health problems. More research needs to be done, however.
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