woman preparing for bed

As more than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. have obesity or are overweight, newly approved weight loss drugs are generating buzz across the healthcare landscape. The impact of these drugs may not be limited to weight loss. Some researchers think they may contribute to better sleep.

Drugs like semaglutide (Wegovy or Ozempic) and tirzepatide (Zepbound or Mounjaro) have shown impressive results as treatments for obesity and diabetes. These drugs act on brain receptors for specific hormones and are known as GLP-1 or GIP receptor agonists. They contribute to weight loss by reducing appetite and helping control blood sugar levels. 

Although existing research is limited, there’s hope that these drugs will also enhance sleep. One of the most promising ways is by decreasing the prevalence and severity of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). 

OSA involves repeated pauses in breathing at night that disturb sleep. Obesity makes having the condition much more likely. Weight loss can improve or eliminate OSA symptoms, but losing weight and keeping it off is challenging. For this reason, sleep specialists have rarely relied on weight loss as a treatment for OSA. 

Because of their effectiveness, new weight loss drugs could change the equation. A small study found that a GLP-1 agonist decreased the severity of OSA symptoms. A larger clinical trial is ongoing to evaluate whether these drugs can be a practical treatment for sleep apnea.

Beyond OSA, GLP-1 and GIP receptor agonists may affect sleep in other ways. Obesity changes how the body uses energy and has been linked to curtailed sleep. By improving metabolism, new weight loss drugs may reduce sleep problems. Though much more research is necessary, one study found reduced daytime drowsiness in people with diabetes who took a GLP-1 agonist. 

There is also growing evidence that new weight loss medications may positively reshape brain activity that drives addiction. These drugs are thought to influence how dopamine, a chemical in the brain, influences reward-seeking behavior.  

For example, drugs like semaglutide and tirzepatide may help people avoid or limit the use of alcohol and nicotine. These substances can interfere with sleep, so this may be another way that GLP-1 and GIP receptor agonists can promote better sleep.

While optimism runs high, much remains unknown about how new weight loss drugs will affect sleep. But data is rapidly accumulating from research studies and from the rising number of people with prescriptions for semaglutide and tirzepatide. 

These types of drugs have the potential to change the landscape around sleep and many other health conditions. Their full impact will be realized as various ongoing and future clinical trials provide evidence of their effectiveness.

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7 Sources

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