Someone with poor sleep quality and a genetic link to asthma may double their chances of being diagnosed with the respiratory condition, researchers said. But they found a healthy sleep pattern was linked to lower risk, according to a report based on U.K. participants in the journal BMJ Open Respiratory Research.
“Previous studies have demonstrated that sleep disorders, such as unfavorable sleep duration and insomnia, are associated with chronic inflammation,” said the authors, including Fuzhong Xue, of the National Institute of Health Data Science of China at Shandong University in Jinan.
“In theory, the immune response to inflammation could generate pro-inflammatory cytokines that result in cellular infiltration and airway inflammation, further increasing the risk of asthma,” they said in a journal news release.
Spotting and treating sleep disorders early on might lessen the risks, regardless of genetic predisposition, the study noted.
People with asthma often report broken or short sleep and insomnia.
For the study, the researchers used U.K. Biobank data on more than 455,000 adults enrolled between 2006 and 2010.
Participants were asked about their sleep patterns, based on whether they were a “morning lark” or “night owl,” sleep duration, insomnia, snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness.
A healthy sleep pattern was defined as being a “morning lark,” getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night, rarely or never having insomnia, not snoring and having no frequent daytime sleepiness.
More than 73,000 people met the criteria for a healthy sleep pattern. More than 284,000 had an intermediate sleep pattern and greater than 97,000 had a poor sleep pattern.
A genetic asthma risk score for each of the people in this study was drawn according to the number of genetic variants associated with asthma in their genome.
About 1 in 3 was classified as having a high genetic risk, with another one-third having an intermediate risk.
The investigators tracked participants’ respiratory health up to the date of an asthma diagnosis, death or until the end of March 2017, whichever came first.
In just under nine years, more than 17,000 people developed asthma. They were more likely to have potentially influential risk factors -- including a greater likelihood of unhealthy sleep traits -- than those without the condition.
About 7,100 people at high genetic risk of asthma and more than 5,700 at intermediate genetic risk were diagnosed with asthma during the monitoring period.
Compared with those at low genetic risk, those with the highest risk were 47% more likely to be diagnosed with asthma, the study found. Those with a poor sleep pattern were 55% more likely.
Those who had genetic risk plus 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.
All five sleep traits were independently associated with lower risks for asthma. Never/rare insomnia and sleep duration of seven to nine hours a night were most influential in lowering risk, the authors said.
The authors did a further analysis on a smaller group of people, finding that a healthy sleep pattern might reduce the risk of asthma in those at high genetic risk by 37%. A healthy sleep pattern might help offset asthma risk, regardless of genetic susceptibility, the researchers said.
“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 authors said.
The study was observational and can’t prove cause and effect. Another limitation is the age range didn’t include children and younger adults. The data was also not racially diverse.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on asthma.
SOURCE: BMJ Open Respiratory Research, news release, April 3, 2023