Could Sleep Apnea Run in the Family?

Feb 28, 2024 | Blog, Sleep Apnea, Sleep Disorders

When we sleep at night, our bodies go into a mode of rest and healing. This important process is influenced not just by how we prepare for bed, but also by the genes passed down to us. Sleep apnea is a condition that can interrupt this crucial rest period, and it might be something you can inherit from your family.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is when someone stops breathing for short periods or breathes very lightly while they are asleep. It is a problem that affects about 4% to 5% of people worldwide, and it is more common in men than in women. While many people know that traits like eye color or hair color can be passed down through families, not everyone knows that the same can be true for certain health issues, including sleep apnea. The National Institute of Health defines sleep apnea as a common but serious condition that can be mild or severe and can lead to other health problems (2022).

Is Sleep Apnea Hereditary?

Research shows that genetics might play a role in about 40% of sleep apnea cases. A study in Sleep Medicine Reviews points out that the shape of our bodies and how our brain controls our breathing muscles, which can be similar in family members, might be inherited traits that increase the risk of getting sleep apnea (Redline & Tishler, 2000).

Another  comprehensive study that looked at 2,284 people from 361 families over 16 years found that genetics could be linked to about 35% of sleep apnea cases. This study, which included detailed sleep studies and metabolic assessments,  underlined how important family history is in figuring out if someone might develop sleep apnea (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2011).

Our genetic makeup can significantly influence our susceptibility to sleep apnea. Things like the shape of our face and head, where our body stores fat, and how our brain controls the muscles in our upper airway are genetic factors that can make sleep apnea more likely. This suggests that there is a complex mix of genes involved in this sleep disorder (Sleep Foundation, 2023).

Recognizing the Signs of Sleep Apnea

It is crucial to understand how sleep apnea makes itself known. The symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas can be quite similar, which sometimes makes it tricky to pinpoint the exact type one might have (National Institute of Health, 2022). However, being aware of the common signs can be a significant first step in recognizing the condition.

The most frequently observed symptoms of both obstructive and central sleep apneas include:

  • Loud snoring, which can be a key indicator of sleep apnea. It is worth noting, though, that not everyone with sleep apnea will snore loudly.
  • Episodes where breathing stops during sleep, usually reported by a partner or family member who notices these pauses.
  • Gasping for air during sleep, which can be a startling experience and is often remembered upon waking.
  • Waking up with a dry mouth, suggesting you have been breathing through your mouth instead of your nose.
  • Morning headaches, which can be a result of decreased oxygen levels in your blood during sleep.
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia), leading to a fragmented and non-restorative night’s rest.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia), making it hard to stay awake and alert during the day.
  • Trouble focusing while awake, which can affect your work, studies, or daily activities.
  • Irritability, which may be a result of poor sleep quality affecting your mood and stress levels.

When to See a Doctor

If loud snoring accompanies any of the symptoms mentioned, it could point to a potentially serious condition, but remember, not everyone with sleep apnea will have noticeable snoring. It is essential to consult with a healthcare provider if you experience signs of sleep apnea or any sleep-related issue that leaves you feeling exhausted, sleepy, and irritable during the day.

Learn More

Understanding the role of genetics in sleep apnea is crucial for its management and treatment. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, consulting with a healthcare professional is a wise first step. Recognizing that sleep apnea may be influenced by family history empowers us to pursue improved sleep health and overall wellness. Dive deeper into the fascinating realm of sleep by exploring our blog.


  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2011). NHLBI Cleveland Family Study (CFS) Candidate Gene Association Resource (CARe) [Data set]. dbGaP.
  2. National Institute of Health. (2022). Sleep Apnea Information Page.
  3. Redline, S., & Tishler, P. V. (2000). The genetics of sleep apnea. Sleep medicine reviews, 4(6), 583–602.
  4. Sleep Foundation. (2023). Is Sleep Apnea Genetic?