Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?


July 11, 2023 4 MIN READ


Genetics and Sleep Apnea – What You Should Know

Snoring loudly, daytime sleepiness, and pauses in your breathing may indicate that you have sleep apnea. You may not be conscious of these symptoms, but your bed partner is likely well aware of such issues. Is it possible that this issue is genetic?

The AMA estimates some 30 million people in the US, about 9% of the population, endure sleep apnea. Approximately 15 to 30% of men and roughly 10 to 15% of women have sleep apnea. However, some studies indicate much higher numbers for both.

The results of a 2004 study show 800,000 OSA-related vehicle accidents in the USA during the year 2000.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is the second most common sleeping disorder and causes frequent bouts of extremely slow, shallow, or temporarily paused breathing during sleep. There are two primary forms of sleep apnea, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).

Central Sleep Apnea

CSA is when the muscles in the mouth and throat cannot contract while sleeping due to issues with how your brain manages your breathing.

While specific underlying causes, like heart issues, may have genetic implications, the causes of CSA do not. Therefore, Central Sleep Apnea does not result from genetics.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Conditions inhibiting the airflow in your upper airways while sleeping indicate OSA. Your mouth and throat muscles become so relaxed that they block or impede airflow.

Unlike CSA, research h shows multiple genetic factors increase the likelihood of developing OSA.

Additionally, Complex Sleep Apnea is the transition of OSA to Central Sleep Apnea that can occur during treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Some of these genetic factors for OSA are:

Facial Anatomy

Your physical makeup, the shape and size of your nose, jaw placement, and muscle structure all impact the potential for developing OSA.

Body Fat

The chances of developing OSA increase tenfold with obesity which can result from a genetic predisposition.

Circadian Rhythm

Genetics significantly influences your natural sleep schedule, how well you sleep, and the possible development of other sleep disorders.


Our genetics are responsible for our physical makeup, which includes the neurological signals and muscles that control our breathing which can influence the development of sleep apnea.

More about OSA

Approximately 40% of Obstructive Sleep Apnea cases result from genetics, with the remaining 60% being environmental or lifestyle related. And while we know that OSA often has a genetic component, scientists have yet to determine the genes responsible for this condition.

Your chances of developing OSA are proportional to the number of relatives in your family tree with this condition. The other thing about families that can lead to sleep apnea is their shared environment, customs, habits, and diet. Coupling these lifestyle choices and traditions with a family history of sleep apnea significantly increases the likelihood that some family members will develop OSA.

Aside from genetics, changes in hormone levels, age, a thick neck, large tonsils, obesity, and lifestyle choices can influence the development of OSA. And as noted above, men are more prone to develop this condition than women.


Regardless of the cause or causes of your sleep apnea, the path to diagnosis is the same. A doctor, such as your primary care physician, can base their diagnosis on your symptoms or may refer you to a sleep specialist for a more extensive evaluation.

Typically, this assessment will include overnight monitoring at a sleep center or your home, where they will monitor your vital signs, including breathing, heart rate, and oxygen levels as you sleep.

Should your diagnosis be for central sleep apnea, you will likely require assessment by a cardiologist or neurologist to seek out the underlying cause of your condition.


The most common treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP therapy which supplies airflow at a constant pressure and maintains that pressure through exhaling. BPAP devices are similar but deliver the air at a higher pressure than exhale when CPAP therapy is insufficient.

Alternatively, your doctor may prescribe one or more non-CPAP strategies.

  • Oral Appliances.
  • Nasal Surgery
  • Somnoplasty
  • Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty
  • Mandibular or Maxillary Advancement

A dentist will typically fabricate and fit oral appliances, but the other alternatives to CPAP are more invasive medical procedures. Depending on your response and tolerance for CPAP therapy, these procedures might be your best option.

Final Thoughts

Sleep Apnea, whether OSA or CSA, is a serious sleep disorder requiring medical intervention. Genetics plays a significant role in roughly 40% of Obstructive Sleep Apnea cases but is not a factor in Central Sleep Apnea.

While treating sleep apnea is essential for your health, it is only one component of an effective strategy to improve your sleep. You will still want to practice good sleep hygiene and manage your stress and anxiety to achieve the best possible restorative rest.

Combining your prescribed therapy with other best sleep practices can deliver positive results that help make your daily life more fulfilling and productive more quickly.

Support can have a significant impact on your results and your outlook as you work through your therapy. Sleep Science Academy is your ideal resource for this support.

Our skilled professional sleep coaches are ready to help guide you to your best outcomes. Sleep Science Academy’s uniquely effective and empowering coaching program incorporates numerous methods and techniques to ensure a clear picture for the future and a lifetime of restful sleep.

Contact us today and schedule your complimentary sleep consultation with one of our sleep coaches to learn how Sleep Science Academy can help you achieve your goals.

Also, in this brief article, you can learn more about our process and how Dynamic Sleep Recalibration (DSR) can improve your Sleep.