Sleep apnea isn’t just something our dad had. In fact, 22 million Americans suffer from it daily. It causes a handful of heart-related troubles and has also been linked to a variety of mental health ailments due to poor sleeping patterns.

Sleep is one of the most important components of everyday living. It gives us the time to repair and recharge before starting a new day and helps prevent things like heart disease and extreme weight gain. 

There are many warning signs of sleep apnea and you might be wondering if sleep apnea is genetic. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat intermittently relax and block airflow. 

Research suggests that obstructive sleep apnea can be attributed to some genetic conditions, like obesity. Obesity is one of the most common causes of sleep apnea and weight loss may help reduce the effect of symptoms.

It also assumes that persons with a family history of sleep apnea or other respiratory conditions are at a greater risk for contracting sleep apnea.

Those with a history of asthma, narrow airways, and chronic nasal congestion are at the greatest risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea over time. Other risk factors include age, high blood pressure, smoking, and sex (male/female).

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that occurs when the brain fails to send the proper signals to the muscles that allow one to breathe. This causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start again during a sleep cycle. 

There isn’t a lot of evidence that suggests central sleep apnea is genetic. However, research has found that older adults, male adults, stroke victims, those with heart conditions, and regular opioid users are at a higher risk of developing central sleep apnea. 

Infant Sleep Apnea

Infant sleep apnea occurs in children younger than 1-year-old. It may be obstructive, central, or a mix between the two. 

The causes of infant sleep apnea are generally unknown and are rarely hereditary. Some of the potential causes and risk factors are premature birth, an underdeveloped nervous system or brainstem, and underlying medical conditions. 

Typically speaking, symptoms of sleep apnea in infancy improve with age— the body is still developing after all. Some of the warning signs include bluish lips, low heart rate, and temporary breathing stoppages during sleep. 

Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea

The warning signs of sleep apnea are generally the same across the various types. Infants may show different symptoms or require more in-depth observation to see them.

Sleep is one of the most crucial aspects of our lives. If you notice any of the symptoms listed below, consult your doctor right away. Untreated sleep apnea life expectancy is significantly lower than the average — by about 15 years!

The warning signs of sleep apnea are: 

  • snoring
  • fatigue 
  • daytime drowsiness
  • headaches 
  • irritability
  • difficulty focusing and accomplishing tasks
  • memory loss
  • REM cycle disruptions 

Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?

Now we know the warning signs of sleep apnea and that obstructive sleep apnea is genetic, while central sleep apnea is not. When left untreated, the estimated life expectancy reduces by 12-15 years, so it is important to speak with a doctor as soon as symptoms become visible.

Learn more about sleep apnea and the available treatment options.