Blog Hero

Is Sleep Apnea Hereditary?

Book Appointment
A man sleeping alone in his bed and snoring.

Sleep apnea is a disorder that results in breathing pauses while you sleep. Surprisingly, your dentist can help with breathing issues like sleep apnea. 

Several factors can increase your risk of developing sleep apnea. While central sleep apnea is not inherited, obstructive sleep apnea is hereditary. 

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea presents with interrupted breathing during sleep. These breathing pauses can last 10 to 30 seconds and occur multiple times throughout the night.

You might not be aware you have sleep apnea. A family member or bed partner usually notices the signs first. Symptoms of sleep apnea can include the following:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Loud snoring with silent pauses
  • Gasping or choking during sleep
  • Morning headache
  • Irritability or mood changes
  • Poor concentration or memory loss
  • Falling asleep while driving

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are 3 types of sleep apnea: central, obstructive, and complex, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

OSA occurs when there is an obstruction at the back of the throat due to soft tissue collapsing and closing, leading to blockage of the airways, resulting in snoring. Causes of the airway blockage can include the following:

  • Relaxed throat muscles
  • A narrow airway
  • A large tongue
  • Extra fatty tissue in the throat 

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

CSA is less common and happens when your brain fails to send the right signals to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing, and the person stops breathing. People with CSA may have insomnia, wake up short of breath, or experience daytime sleepiness. 

Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome

As the name suggests, this apnea combines OSA and CSA. People with complex sleep apnea syndrome may experience brief wakings from sleep, daytime fatigue, headaches or dry mouth, and insomnia. 

Is Sleep Apnea Hereditary?

The development of sleep apnea can have genetic and non-genetic factors. The risk factors are different for OSA and CSA. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Is Hereditary

OSA has a family history of sleep apnea. Anatomical features in the head and neck shared by family members are indicators that can increase a person’s risk of developing this type of apnea. 

Researchers have identified a genetic contribution associated with sleep apnea. While these markers don’t guarantee you’ll develop sleep apnea, they could contribute to your susceptibility. They also show that first-degree relatives of an individual with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to snore or have observed apneas. 

Risk Factors for OSA

While genetics may play a role in OSA development, it’s not the sole culprit. Other factors can include:

  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese, with a higher body mass index (BMI), is correlated with an increased risk of OSA. 
  • Smoking and alcohol consumption: Both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are associated with an elevated risk of OSA. 
  • Sleep position: Believe it or not, the way you sleep matters. Sleeping on your back may increase the risk of airway obstruction, especially for those prone to sleep apnea.
  • Biological sex: Males are more likely to get OSA in early adulthood.
  • Age: Sleep apnea becomes more common as you age, in the 60s and 70s.
  • Nasal congestion: Your likelihood of having OSA is higher if you have difficulty breathing through the nose.
  • Medical conditions: People with heart and lung conditions have a higher tendency to develop OSA. 

Central Sleep Apnea Is Not Hereditary

CSA is not hereditary and results from other factors, including:

  • Age: People over age 65 have an increased risk of breathing disruptions.
  • Biological sex: CSA is more common in men.
  • Drugs: Opioid drugs and some prescription medications can affect breathing and increase the risk of CSA.
  • High altitude: Decreased oxygen at high altitudes is associated with CSA. 

Concerned About Developing Sleep Apnea?

Despite sleep apnea and its hereditary nature, you can take measures to help mitigate your risk or manage the condition if you have it:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: People with a genetic predisposition to sleep apnea may want to focus on lifestyle factors that can reduce their risk, such as maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Quit smoking: If you smoke, consider quitting. The benefits extend far beyond reducing the risk of sleep apnea.
  • Limit alcohol intake: Moderation is key. Limit alcohol intake, including daytime consumption.
  • Sleep position: If you’re prone to snoring or suspect sleep apnea, try using sleep aids to prevent you from sleeping on your back.
A man in an dentist's office shaking hands with his dentist

Restful Sleep Is Within Reach

While genetics is not the sole risk factor for developing sleep apnea, there’s a hereditary component.

If you’re concerned about your risk or interested in treatment, book an appointment with Hometown Dental for personalized guidance. A good night’s sleep may be within reach, whether it runs in the family or not.

Written by Dr. JJ

Meet the leader of the Hometown Dental team — Dr. JJ!

More Articles By Dr. JJ
instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax