A UK Biobank research published in the open-access journal ‘BMJ Open Respiratory Research’ has revealed that poor sleep might increase a person's genetic predisposition to asthma, potentially doubling their chance of being diagnosed with the illness.
A healthy sleep pattern seems to be linked to a lower risk of asthma, prompting the researchers to suggest that spotting and treating sleep disorders early on might lessen the risks, irrespective of genetic predisposition. People with asthma often report sleep disturbances, including broken/short sleep and insomnia. But it's not clear if sleep quality itself might influence asthma risk or whether healthy sleep patterns might lessen this risk, say the researchers.
In a bid to find out, they drew on 455,405 UK Biobank participants who were between 38 and 73 years old. 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, 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.
The genetic makeup of all UK Biobank participants is routinely mapped, and a genetic asthma risk score for each of the 455,405 people in this study was drawn up according to the number of genetic variants associated with asthma in their genome.
Around 1 in 3 participants were classified as 'high' genetic risk (150,429) and another third (151,970) as 'intermediate' risk. The remainder were classified as 'low' risk.
During just under nine years of monitoring, 17,836 people were diagnosed with asthma. They were more likely to have potentially influential risk factors than those not diagnosed with the condition.
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These were: lower levels of education and a greater likelihood of unhealthy sleep traits and patterns; 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.
The association between sleep and asthma may be two-way, offering possible explanations.
"The negative impact of sleep disorders on asthma, which is generally considered a chronic inflammatory disease, might be mediated by sleep-induced chronic inflammation. Previous studies have demonstrated that sleep disorders, such as unfavourable sleep duration and insomnia, are associated with chronic inflammation.
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"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 write.