If Asthma Runs in Your Family, Pay Attention to Your Sleep

A person with their hand/arm covering their mouth laying in bed.
Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels.

Key Takeaways

  • A new study looked at the connection between asthma and sleep.
  • Some people with a genetic predisposition to asthma might be more likely to get the condition if they have poor sleep habits.
  • For people who have asthma, getting enough sleep might help them manage the condition more effectively.

New research shows if you have a biological family member with asthma, you may want to pay extra attention to your sleep habits.

The results of the study, published in March in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, showed that people with a high genetic asthma risk who also had poor sleep quality were more than twice as likely to develop asthma than people with better sleep patterns and a low genetic risk.

Experts say this emphasizes the importance of working on your sleep hygiene to help mitigate your asthma risk factors, as well as manage symptoms if you’re already living with the condition.

“For individuals with a genetic predisposition to asthma, we recommend long-term sleep quality monitoring to detect changes in time to indicate potential asthma progression,” Bowen Xiang, PhD, lead study author from the Cheeloo College of Medicine at Shandong University in Jinan, China, told Verywell. “Second, we recommend various risk factor interventions and regular medical checkups for individuals with a high genetic predisposition.”

Assessing Sleep Hygeine

Researchers looked at data from 455,405 patients in the UK Biobank between 2006 and 2010. All the participants were between 38 and 73 years old. About one-third of them had genetic markers that suggested they had a high risk of developing asthma.

The researchers asked the participants about their sleep patterns—for example, whether they were a “morning person” or “night owl,” (their chronotypes), how much sleep they got each night, and if they had sleep troubles like insomnia, snoring, or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Then, the researchers put the participants into three groups according to their sleep patterns: healthy, intermediate, and poor.

A healthy sleep pattern was defined as having an early chronotype, sleeping 7 to 9 hours per night, and infrequent or no insomnia, snoring, or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Other Asthma Risk Factors

Sleep wasn’t the only factor linked to asthma. Lower levels of education, obesity, smoking, drinking, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, acid reflux, and exposure to air pollution also factored into a participant’s asthma risk.

How Are Asthma and Sleep Linked?

Patients with asthma may have difficulties getting a restful night of sleep due to airway obstruction, Xiang said. However, researchers also believe that poor sleep patterns may aggravate asthma symptoms.

Chronic lack of sleep causes the body to make more proteins in cells called cytokines. This increase leads to inflammation in the body and can also cause or trigger asthma.

“The immune response to lack of sleep results in airway inflammation, further increasing the risk of asthma. However, the exact mechanism remains unclear,” Xiang said. “We also cannot rule out the possibility that a prior decline in sleep quality could reflect early asthma lesions. This means that the monitored sleep changes could indicate ongoing or initiating asthma.”

According to Faith Luyster, PhD, assistant professor of Health and Community Systems at the University of Pittsburg School of Nursing who was not involved with the study, even people with well-controlled asthma can have sleep trouble, which speak to the genetic risk factor.

“Many providers think that asthma is causing people not to sleep well, so if they can better control the patient’s asthma, those sleep problems will go away—but that’s not always the case,” she said.

About half of adults with asthma develop the condition in childhood, but the prevalence of adult-onset asthma increases with age. If you’re caring for a child with asthma, it’s important to help them manage it. That’s key to preventing the condition from getting worse over time.

How to Sleep Better

Whether you have asthma or not, it’s important to tell your healthcare provider if you’re having trouble sleeping. Even if it’s not asthma that’s contributing, there are other diagnosable—and treatable—sleep disorders to rule out.

“Engaging in healthy sleep habits and treating any sleep disorders that may be present can potentially reduce their risk of exacerbations,” Luyster said. “Individuals with insomnia and sleep apnea tend to have poorly controlled asthma. By sleeping better, hopefully, their asthma will be better controlled.”

What This Means For You

Getting adequate sleep is vital to overall health for all individuals, with or without asthma. If you experience snoring, insomnia, or excessive daytime drowsiness, speak with your provider. Addressing any conditions that are leading to poor sleep quality will improve your well-being.

1 Source
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  1. Xiang B, Hu M, Yu H, Zhang Y, Wang Q, Xue F. Highlighting the importance of healthy sleep patterns in the risk of adult asthma under the combined effects of genetic susceptibility: a large-scale prospective cohort study of 455 405 participants. BMJ Open Respir Res. 2023;10(1):e001535-e001535. doi:10.1136/bmjresp-2022-001535

By Cyra-Lea Drummond, BSN, RN
 Cyra-Lea, BSN, RN, is a writer and nurse specializing in heart health and cardiac care.