A large study using data from the UK Biobank has suggested that disrupted sleeping patterns could significantly increase the risk of asthma in those with a genetic predisposition to the disease. The work, published in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, highlights the importance of good sleeping patterns for overall health.
A good night’s sleep
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of human life. Crucial for maintaining physical health and allowing the brain to function properly, a lack of good sleep can lead to long-term health problems. We have previously discussed the impacts of disrupted sleep in those who work night shifts, but those are not the only people who may be prone to a bad night’s sleep.
Asthma is a common condition characterised by respiratory symptoms such as coughing and breathlessness. Additionally, individuals with the illness tend to suffer from insomnia and sleep dysregulation at higher rates than their unaffected counterparts. However, there is a question as to whether the link between asthma and sleep is reversable: does a tendency to sleep badly lead to a greater risk of disease?
To answer this question, researchers analysed a large dataset from the UK Biobank, hoping to assess whether a good night’s sleep can mitigate the genetic risk of developing asthma.
Lowering the risk
The study involved the analysis of genomes from over 455,000 UK Biobank participants. Using the answers to survey questions regarding sleep (including typical sleep duration, whether or not the individual is a snorer, or whether they are a “night owl”), the researchers categorised the participants based on healthy, poor or intermediate sleeping patterns. The vast majority of people fell into the intermediate category.
In addition, the team assessed the volunteers genetic risk of asthma using the biological data stored in the biobank. Again, the individuals were categorised three ways, with a roughly equal split between these subgroups. Over the course of nine years, around 17,000 UK Biobank participants reported an asthma diagnosis. As expected, these individuals fell mostly into the high-risk group. However, compared to low-risk, healthy sleepers, the risk of developing asthma more than doubled if the individual had both a high genetic risk and a poor sleeping pattern. Overall, healthy sleeping patterns seemed to decrease the risk of developing asthma, regardless of genetic profile, by around 20%.
Tuck yourself in
The researchers believe there could be a link between poor sleeping pattern and chronic inflammation, a factor that is known to be associated with asthma: “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.”
A good night’s sleep could mitigate this chronic immune response, although the researchers were keen to stress that the current results cannot prove that this is the case. The researchers concluded: “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.”