Is Sleep Apnea A Genetic Disorder?

Studies have shown that sleep apnea is partially genetic.

It has been found to be more prevalent in certain cultures, races, and families, leading to the question of whether it could be a genetic disorder. While experts are still researching this topic, there is increasing evidence that suggests sleep apnea may indeed have a genetic component. In this article, we will explore the research on the link between genetics and sleep apnea and what this means for those affected by the condition.

Sleep Apnea Types

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – is the most common type of sleep apnea, occurring when the airway is blocked during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea – is caused by a problem with the signals from the brain that control breathing
  • Complex sleep apnea – is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

The most common symptoms of all three types of sleep apnea include snoring, gasping or choking during sleep, difficulty staying asleep or feeling overly tired during the day.

Is Sleep Apnea a Genetic Disorder?

While this condition used to be thought of as an age-related or lifestyle-related issue, recent studies have suggested that genetics play a role in causing sleep apnea.

A study by Medlineplus found that around 50% of people who had a parent with sleep apnea were more at risk of also having sleep apnea compared to the general public.

Researchers believe these factors are what can genetically determine your risks:

Facial Features: Head size, jaw structure, tongue, tonsils and nose structure are all genetic features than can affect how airways can become partially blocked.

Body Weight: Genes affect body structure as well as how and where we store fat. People who are obese are 10x more likely to have sleep apnea.

Breathing: Research is lacking, but it is believed that genetics play a part in how we breathe. The muscles and neuro signals our brain controls is thought to be genetically connected.

Sleep Pattern: More research is again needed. Though, sleep schedules, how well you sleep, and how long you sleep are all partially genetically linked.

Studies on Race

  • Asians, even though they have low rates of obesity, have an increased risk of sleep apnea due to there craniofacial structure.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is increasing year-by-year in all races. This is thought to be a result of increasing obesity.
  • Symptoms of OSA are reported by African Americans more than any other race except snoring, which are Hispanics.
  • Sleep apnea is reported 20% more in African American children compared to all other races.
  • Blacks adults who are 26 years and under are 88% more likely to have OSA compared to the same age of White adults.
  • Black children are 4-6x more likely to have OSA compared to White children.

Treatment for OSA

First, and foremost, lifestyle changes can fix many sleep apnea symptoms such as snoring. Many people who lose weight stop snoring, which leads to a clear airway an no obstruction to cause sleep apnea.

Not drinking alcohol before bed can also reduce symptoms. When you drink, your airway muscles relax while you sleep possibly causing a GI disorder like GERD and/or an obstruction.

Then, if you are unable to make lifestyle changes, the standard for treating sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This is a mask that provides air by a machine you will wear while you sleep every night.

There are also implants and surgeries available for more severe cases.


Sleep apnea is a complex disorder that can be caused by multiple factors. It has been established that genetics play an important role in certain types of sleep apnea, particularly obstructive sleep apnea.

However, other factors, such as lifestyle and environment, are also thought to contribute to the risk of developing this condition. As such, it is important for individuals to prioritize their health and take preventative measures regardless of their genetic makeup.