JINAN, China — Sleepless nights can more than double the risk of adults developing asthma, new research reveals. Researchers find that insufficient rest fuels genetic susceptibility to the potentially fatal lung disease. The findings are based on a review of hundreds of thousands of older British people tracked for almost nine years.
“Our evidence shows both sleep and genetic factors play an important role in asthma risk,” lead author Professor Fuzhong Xue of Shandong University and the team writes in the journal BMJ Open Respiratory Research.
“A combination of poor sleep with high genetic susceptibility would lead to a more than twofold risk compared with a low-risk combination.”
Spotting and treating sleep disorders early on may slash the risk by more than a third, results show.
“Further analysis showed a healthy sleep pattern could reduce the risk of asthma in individuals with high genetic susceptibility by 37 percent – suggesting a healthy sleep pattern would benefit the control of asthma incidence regardless of genetic conditions,” the study authors continue.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one in three American adults say they don’t get enough rest or sleep. Prof. Xue and the team analyzed 455,405 members of the UK Biobank, a vast database which holds information on their DNA and health.
Participants were all between the ages of 38 and 73 when they enrolled between 2006 and 2010. They were asked about sleep duration, insomnia, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, and if they identified as a “morning person” or “night owl.” The study found around one in five (19%) of asthma cases could be preventable if adults improved the quality of all five of these traits.
“A poor sleep pattern independently increased asthma risk by 55 percent – similar to the risk of genetic susceptibility,” the team reports.
Biological explanations include the possibility that lack of shuteye damages the airways by causing inflammation.
“Previous studies have demonstrated unfavorable sleep duration and insomnia are associated with chronic inflammation.”
The immune response may generate pro-inflammatory chemicals that infiltrate the cells, further increasing the risk of asthma, researchers explain. Study authors defined a healthy sleep pattern as getting between seven and nine hours of sleep every night, never or rarely experiencing insomnia, not snoring, and rarely engaging in daytime napping. Only about one in six (73,223) met this criteria, with most classifying as poor (97,915) or intermediate (284,267) sleepers.
A genetic asthma risk score for each individual was drawn up according to the number of asthma mutations in their genome. Around one in three had a “high” genetic risk (150,429), with the others also evenly split as “intermediate” or “low.”
“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,” the researchers conclude in a media release.
Asthma is by far the most common respiratory disorder. Approximately 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.