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If you have ever wished that you had some extra hours in your day, you may have been wishing for different genes rather than some kind of time machine.  New findings from an on-going genome association project indicate that there is a genetic factor that affects how much sleep each of us need at night.  This finding may explain why some people, like Napoleon and Margaret Thatcher, can do incredible things on very little sleep while others need to snuggle in for more than twice as long.

The study was led by chronobiologists Professor Till Roenneberg and Dr. Karla Allebrandt of Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) in Munich, Germany.  The research team was participating in a genome-wide association study that sought to identify genetic variants that were associated with sleep.  In that study, researchers examined individual genomes for genetic variants that impacted sleep patterns.  The team found that ABCC9, a genetic factor that plays a role in heart disease and diabetes, also has affects sleep duration.

Sleep duration is affected by many factors including age, sex, season, and individual sleep-wake cycle.  In recent years, research has shown that there is a correlation between short sleep duration with the development of cardiovascular problems and metabolic disorders like diabetes. Previous genetic research has established a link between ABCC9 and both heart disease and diabetes.  Taken together, the findings show that the link between sleep duration and these other conditions may be that they are both affected by the same genetic variant.

The findings are based on interviews and genetic sampling of more than 4,000 people from across Europe.  Participants completed a questionnaire related to their sleep habits and the research team analyzed their response in conjunction with their genes to find commonality.  They found that people who have two copies of a specific but common variant of the ABCC9 gene generally reported shorter sleep durations than those with other variants.  Additionally, the team was able to confirm that the ABCC9 is evolutionarily ancient because it is similar to a gene found in fruit flies.

Working with other scientists from Leicester University, the research team took the next step to confirm their findings.  Because fruit flies experience sleep-like states, the team was able to use them to simulate what would happen to sleep duration if the gene was blocked.  They found that sleep duration decreased when the gene’s function was modified in the fruit flies’ nervous system.   This finding is encouraging as it indicates that this gene may control sleep duration in a wide range of species.

The significance of this finding is that it provides researchers and doctors who study sleep new information to incorporate into their understanding of how and why we sleep.  Additional research into how ABCC9 affects the sleep patterns of other species, especially those more closely related to humans, may open the door to the development of prevention programs or treatment plans that use sleep duration to address cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and other related health problems.


About Valley Sleep Center:

Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients.  Their Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists consist of experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice across a multitude of sleep related disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hypertension, sleepwalking, and pediatric sleep problems.  They accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare.  For more information contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900; http://www.valleysleepcenter.com.


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