Poor quality sleep may bolster a person’s genetic susceptibility to asthma, potentially doubling their risk of being diagnosed with the condition, suggests an analysis of UK Biobank data.
By contrast, a healthy sleep pattern seems to be linked to a lower risk of asthma, prompting the study authors to suggest that spotting and treating sleep disorders early on might lessen the risks, regardless of genetic predisposition.
The team analyzed data on 455,405 UK Biobank participants who were between 38 and 73 years old when they enrolled between 2006 and 2010.
Participants were asked about their sleep patterns, based on five specific traits: early or late chronotype (“morning lark” or “night owl”); sleep duration; insomnia; snoring; and excessive daytime sleepiness.
A healthy sleep pattern was defined as early chronotype — that is, clocking up 7–9 hours of sleep every night; never or rare insomnia; no snoring; and no frequent daytime sleepiness.
Based on their responses, 73,223 people met the criteria for a healthy sleep pattern; 284,267 had an intermediate sleep pattern; and 97,915 had a poor sleep pattern.
Analyses showed that around a third of participants were at high genetic risk; a third, at intermediate genetic risk; and the remainder, at low risk.
Participants’ respiratory health was tracked up to the date of an asthma diagnosis, death, or until March 2017, whichever came first.
During about 9 years of follow-up, 17,836 people (about 4%) were diagnosed with asthma. Those participants had more risk factors than those who weren’t diagnosed with the condition, including : a greater likelihood of unhealthy sleep traits and patterns, and lower levels of education; obesity; higher genetic asthma risk scores; higher levels of smoking and drinking; high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, acid reflux; and greater exposure to air pollution.
Compared with those at low genetic risk, those with the highest overall risk were 47% more likely to be diagnosed with asthma, while those with a poor sleep pattern alone were 55% more likely.
But people at high genetic risk who also reported poor sleep patterns were 122% more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than those with both a healthy sleep pattern and a low genetic risk.
Never/rare insomnia and sleep duration of 7-9 hours a night were associated with risk reductions of 25% and 20%, respectively.
Additional analyses suggested that a healthy sleep pattern might reduce the risk of asthma in those at high genetic risk by 37%, suggesting that a healthy sleep pattern might help offset asthma risk, regardless of genetic susceptibility, say the researchers.
An observational study such as this can’t establish cause and effect. Nevertheless, the researchers conclude: “Considering that poor sleep combined with high genetic susceptibility yielded a greater than twofold asthma risk, sleep patterns could be recommended as an effective lifestyle intervention to prevent future asthma, especially for individuals with high-risk genetics.”