Feb 28th 2023

Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?

“Snore, snore, snort, gasp.” Does this sound like your nightly symphony? If so, you may be one of the millions of people worldwide who suffer from sleep apnea.

You may be wondering, "Is sleep apnea genetic?" or "Are my lifestyle behaviors causing it?"

In this blog post, we'll dive into the familial ties of sleep apnea and explore whether this snore-inducing condition is simply in your genes.

Defining Sleep Apnea

The sleep disorder, known as sleep apnea, is a disorder that affects many people worldwide. It is characterized by frequent disruptions in breathing during sleep, which can lead to a host of severe health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

If anyone in your family suffers from sleep apnea, you may wonder whether sleep apnea is genetic. If so, read on to explore how it might affect you and your family’s health.

Let's Answer the Question: “Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?”

Sleep apnea is a complex condition influenced by various factors. Some studies have suggested that sleep apnea may have a genetic component, as the condition tends to run in families. However, the exact mechanisms by which genetics might contribute to sleep apnea still need to be fully understood.

Scientists do know that a combination of factors is likely involved in determining whether a person could develop sleep apnea. The National Center for Biotechnology Information estimates roughly 40% of the differences patients experience with sleep apnea are caused by genetics. Some factors are indeed genetic, while others are more likely related to the environment.

Some genetic factors that could predispose you to sleep apnea include:

  • Size and shape of the airway
  • Genetic mutations

As previously mentioned, however, your environment can also dictate whether or not you develop sleep apnea. Some of these potential influences include:

  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Sleeping position
  • Stress

Sleep apnea is likely a combination of both environmental and genetic factors.

Genetic Factors

Let’s take a closer look at some of the genetic factors that can contribute to developing sleep apnea.

Size and Shape of Airway

Genetics might contribute to sleep apnea by influencing the airway’s size and shape. For example, the members of one’s family may have a naturally smaller airway, which makes it more likely that they will experience disruptions in breathing during sleep.

Genetic Mutations

Some natural genetic mutations have been linked to sleep apnea, particularly changes in DNA that regulate the normal functioning of the respiratory system.

Keep in mind, however, that many scientists emphasize that genetics is not the only factor that can contribute to sleep apnea.

Environmental Factors for Sleep Apnea

Environmental factors can play a central role in the development and severity of sleep apnea. For example, if you are experiencing significant stress and anxiety, you may find it more challenging to fall asleep, which can increase the chance of sleep disruptions.

Let’s explore some of the environmental factors.


Excess weight, especially around the neck, can pressure the airway and increase the risk of breathing disruptions during sleep.


Smoking can irritate and inflame the airway, making it more likely that one’s breath can be disturbed during sleep.

Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption, especially before bedtime, can relax the muscles in the airway and increase the risk of sleep apnea.

Sleeping Position

Sleeping on your back can cause the tongue and soft tissues in the mouth to collapse to the back of the throat, narrowing the airway. This, too, can contribute to this common sleeping disorder.


Stress and anxiety can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. As a result, many patients find themselves succumbing to varying degrees of sleep apnea symptoms.

While genetics may play a role in determining a person’s susceptibility to sleep apnea, it is not the only factor involved.

Can I Develop Sleep Apnea if I am Predisposed?

Even if you have a genetic predisposition to sleep apnea, this does not necessarily mean you will develop the condition. Instead, the expression of genetic factors can be influenced by environmental factors such as lifestyle and diet which can either increase or decrease the risk of developing sleep apnea.

For example, obesity has been linked to an increased risk of sleep apnea, as excess weight can place additional pressure on the airway and make breathing more likely to be disrupted during sleep.

On the other hand, lifestyle changes such as weight loss, regular exercise, and avoiding alcohol and smoking can all help to reduce the risk of developing sleep apnea.

When to Take Action

While there may be a genetic component to sleep apnea, it is clear that several environmental factors can also influence the development of this condition. That’s why it’s best to be proactive in managing your health and seeking treatment if you experience sleep apnea symptoms.

If you are concerned about sleep apnea, the first step is to speak with your doctor. They can help you understand your risk factors and develop a plan for managing the condition, which may involve lifestyle changes, weight loss, and medical devices. Your healthcare provider may also be able to arrange a sleep test that can determine the severity of your sleep apnea condition.

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Sleep apnea is a complex condition influenced by genetic and environmental factors. If you are concerned about sleep apnea, you must speak with your doctor, who can help you understand your risk factors and develop a plan for managing the condition.

If you'd like to understand more about sleep apnea, visit our FAQ page or reach out to your doctor.