Our genes have a tremendous influence on many aspects of our lives, affecting everything from the color of our hair to our personalities. But have you ever thought about the fact that genes can play a role in your sleep, too?
The Role of Genes in Sleep
According to Harvard University’s Division of Sleep Medicine, variations in the length and timing of a person’s sleep pattern are genetically predetermined. All humans are “diurnal,” which means we are active during the day and asleep during the night (the opposite being “nocturnal”), but genetics can affect the circadian rhythm’s speed from person to person. The definition of the circadian rhythm, according to the National Sleep Foundation, is the “24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.”
The natural timing of the circadian rhythm varies from person to person and is determined by genetics. If your circadian clock runs faster than 24 hours, you are likely a morning person, which is often referred to as a “lark.” If it runs slower, you are a night person, or an “owl.” You’ve probably heard the phrase “night owl” associated with someone who tends to stay up until the wee hours of the morning.
The predisposition to being an “owl” or a “lark” affects when an individual feels the most productive and alert. While mostly an interesting fact, knowing your predisposition can help you plan your day and the sleep/wake time that works best for you.
Genetics and Sleep Apnea
Genes may play a part in your risk factor for developing a sleep disorder, as well. According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the gene APOE e4 may predispose some people to having sleep apnea. The link between the gene and the condition is complex, however, because there are likely multiple genes involved.
Genes could affect a person’s risk factor for sleep apnea by determining characteristics like the width of a person’s airway or the control of the muscles surrounding the throat. Of course, other conditions can be influenced by genes that are also associated with sleep apnea, like obesity and hypertension. APOE e4 has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, as well.
As with any disease, knowing your family’s genetic makeup and predisposition to certain disorders is important to monitor your own health. If you have family members with sleep apnea, you may be more at risk for developing the disorder. Particularly as you age, monitoring your sleep hygiene will become essential. Pay close attention to the amount of time you spend asleep (not just the amount of time in bed), your energy levels throughout the day, and the presence of snoring – if you have a partner, they can likely help you out with monitoring that last variable!
For people that think that sleep apnea may be affecting them, a sleep study performed by a qualified sleep medicine specialist will provide the data necessary for diagnosis. After diagnosis, treatment options can range from a CPAP to surgery or an oral appliance.
An oral appliance, which looks similar to a mouthguard and projects the jaw forward to decrease snoring and obstruction of the airway, is a comfortable, portable, less invasive and non-noisy alternative to CPAP or surgery. The appliance is effective for the treatment of mild to moderate sleep apnea. If you’re interested in having your sleep accessed, schedule a free consultation with Sleep Better, Georgia to get started and discover the best treatment option for you.