If you find out that sleep apnea is stopping you from breathing properly in the middle of the night, your first question is naturally likely to be, “How did this start?” A sleep disorder can be linked to a mix of lifestyle factors, including obesity and overuse of alcohol. But is it possible for sleep apnea to be a condition that you were born with? As it turns out, your genetics may end up contributing to a sleep disorder – and that could have severe implications for your health in the long term.
What Kinds of Sleep Apnea are There?
When discussing sleep apnea, it should be noted that there are actually multiple forms of the disorder. The most common is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat become too relaxed, completely or partially closing the airway. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, is a failure of the brain; at night, your muscles don’t receive the correct signals for controlling your breathing. In rare situations, you can suffer from both types of sleep apnea at the same time.
Is Sleep Apnea Hereditary?
In general, central sleep apnea isn’t considered a hereditary disease. While there are a few risk factors for the disorder that can be genetic – such as certain heart issues – most of the causes have no such component. There’s little to suggest that a parent could pass down central sleep apnea to their child.
Obstructive sleep apnea, on the other hand, is much more likely to be influenced by your genetics. For example, being overweight is one of the most well-known causes for the disorder, and it is well established that some people are more genetically disposed to obesity than others. Also, if you’re born with a particularly thick neck, narrow airway, small lower jaw, or unusually large tonsils, your risk for obstructive sleep apnea will be much higher. Overall, it is estimated that obstructive sleep apnea is about 40 percent linked to genetics, although there are naturally numerous other factors that are environmental or lifestyle-related instead.
Can Sleep Apnea Be Prevented?
Even if your genetics make you more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, you can take a few steps to lower your risk for the condition, such as:
- Not drinking alcohol before bed
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising frequently to ensure a good night’s rest
- Avoiding sleeping pills that could overrelax the throat muscles
- Sleeping on your side (as sleeping on your back tends to worsen sleep apnea)
That said, even if you take precautions, you could still end up suffering from sleep apnea attacks. Get in touch with a sleep expert as soon as you suspect that the quality of your sleep might be suffering. Whether or not you inherited your sleep apnea, it’s essential to have it treated as soon as possible to protect your body and enjoy a good night’s rest again.
About the Author
Dr. Kent Smith is the founding practitioner and chief medical officer of Sleep Dallas in Irving, and he has been helping patients suffering from sleep breathing disorders in the DFW-area for more than 25 years. Using custom-designed oral appliances, he has helped over 10,000 patients sleep soundly at night again. If you think you might have sleep apnea, schedule an appointment by visiting his website or calling (844) 409-4657.