Our genes influence everything from the color of our hair and eyes to our height and even our personality. They are often linked to an increased or lowered risk of developing certain health conditions as well, which raises a simple question: What role do genes play when it comes to sleep apnea? Is there a sleep apnea gene? Are you doomed to struggle with the condition because of an unfortunate hand dealt by nature? Fortunately, there is more nuance to the answer than this, and you don’t have to let your genes stand in the way of getting a good night’s rest.
There is No Sleep Apnea Gene
New discoveries are made every year regarding the human genome, so you’ll often see stories like, “Scientists have discovered the gene for X.” Thankfully, a dedicated sleep apnea gene has yet to be found. However, a person’s genetics have been shown to make them more likely to have one or more risk factors that have a direct correlation with sleep apnea.
How Genes & Sleep Apnea Are Connected
Sleep apnea is characterized by a person experiencing brief but repeated interruptions in breathing throughout the night. For some people, they naturally have a narrow or less rigid airway that is more prone to becoming blocked. At the same time, those with a larger than average neck or tongue tend to have sleep apnea more often than the average population. All of these traits are directly influenced by someone’s genes.
Genes can also play a role in the leading cause of sleep apnea in the U.S.—obesity. Countless studies have shown that there is a strong connection between someone’s genes, home environment, and their likelihood of becoming obese, which directly contributes to sleep apnea risk.
There is Hope
For the people who haven’t won the genetic lottery when it comes to sleep apnea, the good news is that genetic factors do not guarantee someone will have the condition. And, the ways a person can lower their risk, manage, and maybe even avoid the condition are the same no matter what your DNA says:
- Maintain consistent sleep hygiene—try to sleep for at least seven to nine hours each night and go to bed/wake up at the same time every day.
- Sustain a healthy weight and talk with a medical professional if you have trouble doing so.
- Avoid using alcohol, smoking, or vaping several hours before going to bed.
- Contact a sleep dentist for a screening if you encounter telltale signs of sleep apnea (loud snoring every night, chronic exhaustion, morning headaches and sore throats, and waking up in the middle of the night sweating or feeling out of breath).
Sleep apnea is very treatable these days, with one of the simplest methods being oral appliance therapy. This approach involves a sleep dentist creating a custom mouthguard which is only worn to bed that gently keeps the airway open throughout the night, leading to high-quality rest. It works no matter what your genes say, meaning there is nothing that has to stand between you and feeling great in the morning!
About the Author
A graduate of the University of Alabama School of Dentistry, Dr. Jeff Rodgers has dedicated his 20+ year career to helping patients overcome snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep-related problems. As such, he has completed countless hours of advanced training on the subject, leading him to become a Diplomate of both the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Sleep and Breathing Academy. If you’re concerned about sleep apnea, you can schedule a screening with Dr. Rodgers right now by clicking here or calling (770) 394-4310.