Is sleep apnea a winter disease?: meteorologic and sleep laboratory evidence collected over 1 decade

Chest. 2012 Dec;142(6):1499-1507. doi: 10.1378/chest.11-0493.


Background: The severity of obstructive sleep apnea increases by influence of conditions that are more frequent in winter. The hypothesis that the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) of different patients undergoing polysomnography may be seasonally affected was tested.

Methods: The retrospectively analyzed database included 7,523 patients of both sexes who underwent in-laboratory baseline polysomnography to investigate any complaint of disordered sleep, during 1 decade, between January 2000 and December 2009. Data on climate and air pollution were obtained from official organizations. AHI was the main outcome variable. Cosinor analysis, a statistical method for the investigation of time series, was used to detect seasonality.

Results: The cosinor analysis confirmed the existence of a circannual pattern of AHI, with acrophase in winter and nadir during the summer. The seasonality is significant even after adjusting for sex, age, BMI, neck circumference, and relative air humidity. Median (25-75 interquartile range) AHI in the 6 months with colder weather was 17.8 (6.5-40.6/h), and in the warmer weather was 15.0 (5.7-33.2/h). The AHI correlated inversely with ambient temperature and directly with atmospheric pressure, relative air humidity, and carbon monoxide levels. Correlations with precipitation, particulate air matter < 10 μm, sulfur dioxide, and ozone were nonsignificant.

Conclusions: More sleep-disordered breathing events were recorded in winter than in other seasons. Cosinor analysis uncovered a significant seasonal pattern in the AHI of different patients undergoing polysomnography, independent of sex, age, BMI, neck circumference, and relative air humidity. This finding suggests that obstructive sleep apnea severity may be associated with other seasonal epidemiologic phenomena.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Humidity
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck / anatomy & histology
  • Polysomnography*
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seasons*
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / epidemiology*