8 Factors That Increase the Risk of Sleep Apnea

sleep apnea

Every day we gain new information indicating the aftereffect of untreated sleep apnea. The list ranges from diabetes and heart issues to the connection with cancer and even behavioral issues in children.Β  This ongoing stream of data and research has provoked us to find a list of factors that increase the risk of sleep apnea, so that we are better able to manage some of those risks, when possible. Knowledge is power!

Before diving into the list, let’s review the definition of sleep apnea to ensure that we are all on the same page.Β  For the most part, there are three types of sleep apnea -- central (happens in the brain), obstructive sleep apnea (most common), and mixed (both central and obstructive).Β  Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat collapse, causing the airway to close.

Now that we share a common definition for sleep apnea, let’s chat about the nasty risk factors to stay clear of to reduce the risk for obstructive sleep apnea.


This is a BIG one. Did you know that obese adults are seven times more likely to develop OSA than people of a normal weight range, (according to WebMD)? This is because excess weight creates additional mass tissue in the airway, which constricts the diameter of the airway opening.Β  Here’s a situation in which carrying around that extra spare tire may not be such a snappy idea.

Neck Circumference

Have you ever been envious of a world class bodybuilder’s physique? If so, this next snippet of information may help you put your envy to rest.Β  Overly muscular individuals, commonly found in professional athletes, who may not necessarily be obese, have a much thicker neck circumference than the rest of us non-Hulk people. The thicker neck size works against the optimal airway opening circumference. This is similar to what happens in obese individuals, where the extra mass tissue located in the airway narrows the opening for air.

Bulging fact: There’s a higher risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea in men that have a neck circumference greater than 17 inches and women over 15 inches.


Even though this disease can attack every age group, including infants and children, it is more commonly found in older aged individuals. This is because as we age, we begin to lose tone and elasticity, including the soft tissue in our throats which makes it more likely for the airway to collapse.

Family History

When it comes to obstructive sleep apnea, family history can play a huge roll. Certain physical characteristics, such as a narrow jaw or a side profile indicating a lack of the correct chin to neck space ratio, may be indicators for an elevated risk for sleep apnea. In addition, if a family member has sleep apnea, you are also at a higher risk for being diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Alcohol Use

Whether you have sleep apnea or not, alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant and may lead to episodes of sleep apnea.Β  In those individuals that do have sleep apnea, alcohol makes the apneic events longer, worsening the severity of apnea throughout the night. Booze and sleep apnea don't mix well.


sleep apnea discriminates. Whoa. Studies show that both sleep apnea risk and sleep apnea severity vary by race.Β  This may be due to anatomical differences in the airways of different ethnic groups and races.


Here’s another reason to quit while you’re ahead. Smokers are 2.5 times more likely to have sleep apnea, (2001 study). Smoking irritates airway tissues and causes swelling to occur, which ultimately restricts the opening of the airway. Ick!


Did you know that middle-aged men are twice as likely to have obstructive sleep apnea as women of the same age? The difference may be due again to anatomical differences, especially since many times men are bigger than women...well, sometimes. Please note that even though sleep apnea may be male favorable, it is also known to significantly impact women.

We hope the above information was helpful. All humor aside, sleep apnea is serious and it's not going away. On the flip side, it's growing at a rapid speed with help from the escalating obesity numbers in our country. As a life threatening sleep breathing disorder, it needs to be addressed and understood by everyone. If you or a loved one thinks you may have sleep apnea, please call us today for additional information.