Are Sleep Disorders Genetic?

    Sleep disorders can be disruptive to daily functioning in a variety of ways. They range quite drastically in severity, from minor disturbances in the form of occasional bouts of insomnia to severe narcoleptic episodes, which can occur frequently during the daytime.

    Although sleep disorders can be incredibly difficult to cope with, they are far more prevalent than most people believe, with statistics indicating that insomnia and sleep apnea are the most common disorders diagnosed by sleep clinics. Researchers have studied sleep disorders heavily in order to establish root causes and develop effective treatment, and have been fairly successful at pinpointing the origins of common sleep disorders.


    Insomnia, it seems, is one stress-induced disorder that seems to be hereditary, since it relies on the expression of genes, which are passed along from parent to child. Research shows that over 700 genes are involved in sleep patterns, and only one week of mild sleep deprivation is enough to activate the expression of all of them.

    Genes react in response to stress activity, and your ability to sleep is reflected by your capacity to handle stress. So, in short, if your mother or father are easily stressed out people, you’re likely to inherit a similar weakness for stress, which often leads to the development of insomnia.

    To complicate matters further, when a person can’t get to sleep or stay asleep, they become more stressed by the inability to sleep, and stress reactivity is increased by a lack of sleep. It’s a vicious, frustrating, and ironic cycle that every insomniac is all too familiar with.

    Sleep Apnea

    The second most common sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) impacts the lives of at least 20 million Americans. Surprisingly, despite the fact that sufferers are very likely to acknowledge their sleep is being impacted in some way, up to 80% of people with sleep apnea have received a professional diagnosis.

    This is due to the fact that, unlike insomnia, sleep apnea is a more subtle disorder that can only be diagnosed at a sleep disorders institute where individuals are monitored during their sleep by highly trained medical personnel. Rather than staying awake watching the clock, individuals with sleep apnea fail to reach the deepest rapid-eye movement (REM) stage of sleep that allows them to wake up feeling well-rested. This occurs due to breathing obstructions that temporarily jolt the brain into wakefulness.

    You might have sleep apnea and not know it, but chances are, you didn’t inherit it from your parents. Sleep researchers have found evidence linking sleep apnea with obesity, age, and gender; overweight men over the age of 40 are the most likely to be diagnosed with sleep apnea.


    Narcolepsy, characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and random, uncontrollable sleep episodes during the day, is one of the least understood sleep disorders. It remains fairly uncommon, affecting one in every 2,000 adults. Narcolepsy causes severe distress to those who suffer from it, so it is important that research is conducted on this mysterious condition.

    The traditional symptoms of narcolepsy, including cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations, are actually normal experiences that occur during REM sleep. These confusing and disorienting episodes become problematic when they occur during periods of wakefulness. And since they come on very randomly without warning, they can be very disruptive to normal day-to-day existence.

    While narcolepsy is related to genetic expression, and children of those with narcolepsy are predisposed to developing it, there is no absolute guarantee that kids will inherit the disorder. No one is born with narcolepsy, rather, they are born with the genetic predisposition for it, and symptoms don’t begin to appear until adolescence. Typically, children start showing signs around the age of ten, but some might not develop narcoleptic tendencies until their early twenties.

    If you are struggling with issues relating to your sleep and circadian rhythm, the best option is to seek help from a specialist. The health information exchange provides a variety of resources for individuals with sleep disorders. Since sleep is such an important and crucial part of bodily health, and sleep deprivation is nothing short of a public health crisis (tired people behind the wheel pose a serious safety hazard, after all), it is recommended that you treat any symptoms that you are experiencing as soon as possible.