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Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop sleep apnea with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing sleep apnea. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for sleep apnea include:


People who smoke more than 2 packs per day are more likely to develop sleep apnea than nonsmokers.


Some studies have shown that people who use alcohol regularly have an increased risk of sleep apnea.

Sedative Medications

Using sedative medications can increase your risk of sleep apnea.

Medical Conditions

The following conditions may increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea:

The following conditions may increase your risk of central sleep apnea:


Men are thought to be 2 to 4 times more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. However, some researchers have suggested that this difference may be because women are underdiagnosed with the condition.

Genetic Factors

Sleep apnea appears to run in certain families.

Ethnic Background

Sleep apnea is more common among:

  • African Americans
  • People of Mexican origin
  • Pacific Islanders

Physical Characteristics

You have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea if you have the following physical characteristics:

  • Thick neck
  • Obstructed nasal passages
  • Large tongue
  • Narrow airway
  • Receding chin
  • Overbite
  • Certain shapes and increased rigidity of the palate and jaw

You also have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea if you breathe through your mouth while sleeping, or if you snore.

Revision Information

  • NINDS sleep apnea information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: Updated October 21, 2015. Accessed December 6, 2016.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated October 5, 2016. Accessed December 6, 2016.

  • Sleep apnea. American Sleep Apnea Association website. Available at: Accessed December 6, 2016.

  • Who is at risk for sleep apnea. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Updated July 10, 2012. Accessed December 6, 2016.

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