3 Ways Your Thyroid Condition Can Worsen Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, a condition that can cause snoring, gasping for air during sleep, periods of breath-holding during sleep, and daytime sleepiness, can be caused by obesity, consuming alcoholic beverages before bed, acid-reflux disease, and even postnasal drip.

What many people do not realize is that sleep apnea can also be caused by thyroid conditions. If you have either an underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland, which is known as hyperthyroidism, you may be at a greater risk for developing sleep apnea. Here are three ways your thyroid condition may heighten your risk for sleep apnea and what you can do about them.


A goiter refers to when your thyroid gland becomes enlarged, either from too much thyroid hormone or not enough. A goiter can become so enlarged that it can make swallowing or breathing difficult.

If you have apnea, you may have trouble breathing when sleeping, and when coupled with an enlarged thyroid gland, you may experience an even more irregular pattern of breathing during your slumber.

Always take your thyroid medication per your doctor's instructions, and if you develop a swelling in your neck, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or a hard time breathing, see your doctor. Treatment with radioactive iodine will help shrink your goiter, but your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your thyroid gland to help improve your symptoms of sleep apnea.

Beta Blockers

If you have hyperthyroidism, your symptoms may include weight loss, diarrhea, excessive sweating, enlargement of your eyes, shaking, and heart palpitations. When your heart persistently beats abnormally fast, this can lead to anxiety and panic attacks and may even raise your risk for developing a dangerous cardiac arrhythmia.

In order to normalize the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat, your doctor may recommend that you take medications known as beta blockers. While effective in slowing down a racing heart, these medications may sometimes cause your heart to beat abnormally slowly.

Certain beta blockers can affect your lung tissue, causing shortness of breath or wheezing. While these symptoms can exacerbate your sleep apnea, you should never abruptly stop taking your beta blockers because doing so may heighten your risk for a dangerous cardiac event.

Weight Gain

Hypothyroidism can often cause weight gain, and it can also make it difficult for you to lose weight despite increased exercising and decreased caloric intake. A low-functioning thyroid slows down your metabolic rate, and subsequently, can lead to abdominal weight gain and weight gain around your neck.

People who have larger necks may be at a greater risk for severe sleep apnea because the added weight puts pressure on the airway. Losing weight can help improve your pattern of breathing and may also decrease apnea episodes. 

If you have a thyroid disorder and notice that you wake up gasping for breath, if someone in your home tells you that you snore, or if you experience daytime sleepiness, talk to your doctor about sleep-apnea treatments. Your physician may recommend that you undergo a sleep study at a hospital or use a special sleep mask at bedtime to help you breathe better when you sleep.