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Snoring insights from the UK Biobank’s latest study

Even on Valentine’s Day the snoring of a sleeping companion, can be a hard habit to excuse. And, while a UK Biobank analysis may not help to silence-the-snooze of your significant other, the insights published today are interesting, nonetheless.

The observational and genetic study of 400,000 snoring and non-snoring participants using data from the UK Biobank was undertaken to better understood its underlying cause. Affecting a higher proportion of the male population (35 – 45%) than female (15 – 28%), incidence of habitual snoring increases in both sexes with age. Whilst often not necessarily concerning, snoring can be indicative of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), an irregular breathing disorder caused by partial obstruction of the upper airways during sleep. 

Body mass index (BMI), risk of coronary heart disease, and stroke have all previously been associated with snoring, as well as lifestyle factors including smoking and regular alcohol consumption. Additionally, twin and family studies have suggested a 18-28% chance of genetic inheritance of the trait.

This population study confirmed previous associations where BMI positively correlated with snoring prevalence in both sexes. The group then used Mendelian randomisation tests to infer that there may exist a causal relationship between higher BMI and snoring. Smoking was correlated with a higher snoring incidence in women than men, whereas conversely, alcohol consumption had a larger influence on male snoring prevalence.

The GWAS identified 42 genome-wide statistically significant loci in the snoring group with a single nucleotide polymorphisms-based heritability estimate of around 10%. They also identified 173 individual “snoring genes” expressed across various organs including the brain, lungs, blood and esophagus.

As reduced quality of sleep is often a consequence of snoring both for the snorer and their S.O, knock-on effects include higher risks of fatigue, anxiety, stress, depression, and general lethargy. Whilst this study uncovers some of molecular markers of habitual snoring it also highlights the highly complex nature of the polygenic trait.

P.S. If you’re interested in how and why the UK Biobank has collected genetic and health data on half a million Britons, take a look back at our interview with the project’s Principal Investigator and Chief Executive, Dr Rory Collins, here.


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