What Foods Cause Sleep Apnea and How to Avoid Them

Are you struggling with sleep apnea and wondering why the symptoms aren’t improving? Could your lifestyle, particularly your diet, be making things worse? Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects many people, causing them to stop breathing intermittently at night—and what you eat can play a substantial role in this condition.

Let’s find out what foods cause sleep apnea and how your food choices might exacerbate its symptoms.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder wherein your breathing stops and starts repetitively while sleeping. When left untreated, this condition can result in serious health consequences, such as heart disease and stroke. While there are different types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common. This type involves the blockage of the airway during sleep, often due to the relaxation of throat muscles.

These disruptions in the upper airway can lead to oxidative damage from the overproduction of reactive oxygen, negatively impacting the quality of one’s sleep. There are potential mechanisms within dietary patterns, such as the intake of unhealthy foods that cause sleep apnea, highlighting the importance of individual food choices in managing the condition.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness. Daytime sleepiness is a common symptom of sleep apnea. Despite seemingly sufficient sleep time, individuals with sleep apnea often experience fatigue and drowsiness throughout the day. This can be due to the constant interruption of sleep caused by the blockage of the upper airway during sleep, often leading to worse sleep quality.
  • Loud and Frequent Snoring. Although not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, loud and frequent snoring can be an indication of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Snoring occurs when the pharyngeal muscles, which serve as the upper airway muscles, relax during sleep and narrow the airway. This can cause a vibration that results in snoring.
  • Choking or Gasping for Air During Sleep. Episodes of choking, gasping for air, or short pauses in breathing are significant symptoms of sleep apnea. This is related to the upper airway’s occasional collapse, leading to a reduction or complete halt in airflow. This obstructive phenomenon may occur multiple times during the night, interrupting a patient’s sleep.
  • Nighttime Awakening and Frequent Urination. Individuals with sleep apnea may frequently wake up during the night with a feeling of shortness of breath. They may also be prone to frequent urination at nighttime. These symptoms are more common in patients with other OSA-related disease like renal disease. They can also affect sleep quality, making the patient feel unrefreshed in the morning.

How Food Choices Might Exacerbate Sleep Apnea

Causing Weight Gain

The consumption of unhealthy foods rich in excess energy intake is linked to obesity, a prominent risk factor for sleep apnea. Obesity alters body fat distribution, leading to fat buildup around the upper airway that may worsen sleep apnea severity. Current studies also suggest a potential negative association with dietary patterns emphasizing oily and snack foods, showing an increased risk of weight gain.

Overweight patients, especially females, are found to be more susceptible to sleep apnea, highlighting gender differences. The intake of food, particularly excess intake of salted food and low intake of fruits, appears to correlate strongly with weight gain and sleep apnea risk.

Increasing Mucus Production

Unhealthy food choices, such as excess intake of dairy products and non-carbonated beverages laden with sugar, may increase mucus production in the airways. Epidemiological studies deploying food frequency questionnaires identify an increase in mucus production with a higher intake of such foods.

This increment of pattern, detailed through principal component analysis, shows a positive association with sleep apnea. Multicollinearity of food leading to thickened mucus can obstruct the upper airway, worsening sleep quality. A variety of mechanisms can contribute to this, which current studies have yet to unveil fully.

Triggering Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, heightened by the intake of fatty meals and certain individual foods, is reported as a frequent complaint in patients with sleep apnea. Current reports suggest that such dietary factors might exacerbate sleep apnea by causing oxidative damage in the upper airway. Patient sleep time is often disturbed due to the discomfort of acid reflux, leading to worse sleep quality.

Our body’s physiological response to certain dietary patterns, such as high salt intake and foods rich in fatty acids, amplifies acid reflux issues. Consequently, this dietary pattern analysis shows a strong interrelation with sleep apnea severity.

Disrupting Hormonal Balance

Diet choices influence the production and balance of hormones in the body. For instance, excessive consumption of sugary beverages and food can augment tumor necrosis factor and alter OSA-related hormones, including sex hormones. Overconsumption of fatty acids and low intake of antioxidants, such as folic acid from fruits and vegetables, can potentiate hormonal disruptions in both male and female patients, which is evident from gender analysis.

This hormonal disturbance, as predicted by the logistic regression model, can lead to worsening of sleep apnea. However, the potential mechanisms causing these hormonal disruptions are pending further experimental models.

Affecting Breathing and Muscle Function

Food allergies and the intake of certain diet components can negatively affect breathing and upper airway muscle function in sleep apnea patients. It’s suggested that these foods may promote pharyngeal muscles’ inflammatory responses, subsequently leading to narrowed airways and disrupting sleep. Dietary factors could augment reactive oxygen production, which damages the upper airway muscles and skeletal muscle.

Indeed, the major components influencing muscle function and sleep apnea severity remain unclear due to false associations and the confounding factors involved. Hence, further detailed mechanisms through further research are necessary for understanding the single-component effect of diet on sleep apnea.

What Foods Cause Sleep Apnea?

1. Bananas

While rich in nutrients, bananas—especially overripe ones—can trigger an increase in mucus production, which can further obstruct your airway during sleep. This can lead to worse sleep apnea symptoms and affect your sleep quality. However, it’s essential to note that bananas have other health benefits, and their effect on mucus production may vary between individuals. You should consider consulting with a dietitian or a sleep specialist to assess if they could be contributing to your sleep apnea symptoms.

Rich and Spicy Foods

Spicy foods and other rich, heavy meals can lead to acid reflux, a risk factor for sleep apnea. The refluxed acid can irritate the throat, causing swelling and narrowing of the airway. Moreover, spicy food may raise your body temperature, which might affect sleep quality. Though not everyone with sleep apnea will experience worsened symptoms with spicy foods, it’s advisable to monitor your symptoms and discuss them with your doctor if they persist or worsen.

High-Fat Dairy and Meat

High-fat dairy products and fatty meats can contribute to weight gain, one of the primary risk factors for sleep apnea. As we gain weight, fat collects around the upper airway, which can obstruct breathing. These food types are also slow to digest, leading to discomfort when lying down after a meal. If you are struggling with sleep apnea, discuss your diet with a healthcare professional who can help develop a meal plan that aligns with your personal needs and helps manage your symptoms.


While alcohol might help you fall asleep initially, it often disrupts sleep quality and aggravates sleep apnea symptoms. Alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, which can obstruct the airway. Furthermore, alcohol consumption has been linked to weight gain, another sleep apnea risk factor. Suppose you regularly consume alcohol and are experiencing sleep apnea symptoms. In that case, it’s advisable to talk to a health specialist—they can help guide you towards lifestyle habits that could improve your sleep health.


As a stimulant, caffeine is known for keeping you alert and awake—the exact opposite of what you want when you’re aiming for a good night’s sleep. Moreover, excessive caffeine can cause you to spend less time in the restorative REM stage of sleep, exacerbating sleep apnea symptoms. However, reactions to caffeine are highly personal. Hence, it’s important to adjust your intake based on your response and consult with your doctor if you have any concerns regarding your caffeine consumption and sleep health.

Refined Carbohydrates and Sugary Beverages

Refined carbs and sugary drinks often lead to weight gain, intensifying sleep apnea symptoms. Moreover, research indicates that these dietary components may also increase the risk of sleep apnea by causing fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Aim for a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies instead. Remember to discuss any drastic dietary changes with a healthcare provider to ensure they align with your overall health goals.

How Does Dietary Habits Improvement Alleviate Sleep Apnea?

It’s crucial to maintain a healthy diet and weight to alleviate sleep apnea symptoms. Consuming a diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, plant-based oils, and low-fat dairy products can contribute to weight loss and improve sleep apnea. Including dietary adjustments in sleep apnea treatment, alongside oral appliance therapy, also aids in managing the condition.

Limiting the consumption of food rich in saturated fats, especially fatty meats and high-fat dairy, can mitigate mucus production, one of the sleep apnea symptoms. By focusing on the intake of antioxidants and reducing salted food and refined carbohydrate intake, the severity of sleep apnea can be significantly decreased, thus improving your sleep time and quality.

Ready to Improve Your Sleep and Your Smile? Contact Tolley Dental Today

Sleep Apnea is not just a sleep disorder but a significant health concern that can affect your overall well-being. Certain dietary habits, such as high intake of fatty and dairy products, can exacerbate the symptoms and further complicate the condition. Overcoming sleep apnea starts with taking proactive steps towards a healthier lifestyle – and your diet plays a crucial role in this.

At Tolley Dental, we’re committed to providing personalized, comprehensive treatment plans that address not just your oral health but also your overall well-being. Our skilled team and state-of-the-art technology will guide you to sleep better and improve your health.

Contact us today, and take that first step towards sleeping better and living healthier.