Many Americans don’t get as much sleep as they should. Although doctors recommend that people get between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, most people get less than that—often far less. There are a number of reasons that play a role in this. Larger cultural factors such as the demands of the modern workforce and the encroachment of technology into every facet of life certainly have an impact on the amount of sleep people get each night. People also may have trouble sleeping because due to personal issues, ranging from anxiety over family problems to simply having a lumpy mattress. For people who have chronic difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, their first instinct is most likely to blame one of these external factors, but the truth may be lurking within them—specifically within their genes. Numerous scientific studies have identified links between sleeping habits and genetic factors, so the next time you find yourself unable to fall asleep at night, it could be because you were born that way.
This might not be surprising to many people. After all, just about everyone knows someone who is a “morning person.” These people appear to have no difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, and seem to have limitless energy. “Morning people” may simply be predisposed to waking up with a positive attitude, or they may be genetically attuned to getting the right amount of sleep.
Genetic Factors for Sleep
ABCC9 may play a role in your sleep. Scientists and researchers are investigating the role genetics play in how much sleep people need or get each night. Some of the results so far have shown promise. For example, a recent study identified a gene called ABCC9 that could play an important role in determining how much sleep a person needs each night to be fully rested. Researchers in this study monitored the sleeping patterns of more than 4,000 people and determined how much sleep each person needed to feel completely rested and alert the next day. They began to look for patterns in the DNA of people who required less sleep and identified a certain single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) on the ABCC9 gene that correlated to people requiring less sleep than average. People who shared this SNP in their ABCC9 genes only required about seven-and-a-half hours of sleep per night, a half-hour less than most people.
According to the research, this may be connected to the ABCC9 gene’s role in the creation of a protein used by the body to move potassium in and out of cells. It is believed that potassium may be connected to sleepiness and alertness signals in the brain. Based on this research, scientists are working to determine if it may be possible to utilize this SNP from the ABCC9 gene to help people function better with less sleep.
Gene variations could affect your amount of deep sleep. Other research is exploring the genetic factors that may control how well we sleep during the night. A number of studies have found that variations in the ADA gene influences how much deep sleep people get during the night. Sleep is divided into numerous stages, the deepest level of sleep being the stage at which the brain creates delta waves. Involuntary limb movement during this stage may be responsible for waking the brain slightly and causing it to shift gear into a less-deep level of sleep. This can result in people feeling less rested when they wake, despite having been asleep for the entire time they were in bed.
Researchers have discovered that variations in the ADA gene may determine how often people move involuntarily during the night. This research may lead to treatments that could reduce the amount of involuntary movement people make during their sleep cycles, which could improve the quality of sleep they get overnight.
Some people have trouble sleeping even under the best conditions. While external factors such as stress or poor sleep habits certainly can have an effect, it’s possible that there could be genetic factors in play. As research progresses, the connection between sleep and our genes may become clearer than ever.
Carrie Hudson is Content Specialist for DNA Diagnostics Center, which produces the HomeDNA brand of easy, at-home genetic tests. HomeDNA helps people make smarter choices for better living.