J Sleep Res. 2022 Dec 29:e13801. doi: 10.1111/jsr.13801. Online ahead of print.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common disorder that leads to sleep fragmentation and is potentially bidirectionally related to a variety of comorbidities, including an increased risk of heart failure and stroke. It is often considered a consequence of anatomical abnormalities, especially in the head and neck, but its pathophysiology is likely to be multifactorial in origin. With geometric morphometrics, and a large sample of adults from the Study for Health in Pomerania, we explore the association of craniofacial morphology to the apnea-hypopnea index used as an estimate of obstructive sleep apnea severity. We show that craniofacial size and asymmetry, an aspect of morphological variation seldom analysed in obstructive sleep apnea research, are both uncorrelated to apnea-hypopnea index. In contrast, as in previous analyses, we find evidence that brachycephaly and larger nasal proportions might be associated to obstructive sleep apnea severity. However, this correlational signal is weak and completely disappears when age-related shape variation is statistically controlled for. Our findings suggest that previous work might need to be re-evaluated, and urge researchers to take into account the role of confounders to avoid potentially spurious findings in association studies.