Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Genetic Link Discovered in Short Sleepers

The first ever gene linked to human sleep behavior has been revealed. Although the National Institutes of Health maintains that adults need seven to nine hours of nightly sleep in order to maintain good health, a group of researchers from the University of California in San Francisco have found an exception to the recommendation. The group has discovered a gene that diminishes the nightly sleep requirements of both a mother and daughter to only about six hours.

Sleep logs revealed that the 69-year-old mother and her 44-year-old daughter have naturally been short sleepers for the majority of their lives. They both go to bed at about 10 p.m. and rise at 4 or 4:30 a.m., while the other members of their family share typical sleep patterns. Neither of these women has suffered any ill effects from their sleeping habits. In fact, they appear to be quite healthy. The two women share a rare mutation in a gene known as DEC2 that is associated with regulation of circadian rhythms, also known as the body's internal clock. According to the researchers, people having this gene mutation simply need less sleep. Details on the finding are published in the journal Science.

Previous research has shown that many Americans suffer from chronic insomnia as well as other sleep disorders including sleep apnea. For most of us, getting less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep nightly on a regular basis increases the risk for health problems such as memory impairment, a weakened immune system and more.

Regarding the study on the mother-daughter duo of short sleepers, lead researcher Ying-Hui Fu, a professor of neurology at the University of California at San Francisco, Mission Bay, concluded, “They really have shorter sleep requirements.” Another factor that may play a role in the two women’s sleep patterns is that both are very active. In fact, the mother often travels internationally and dances three to four times weekly.

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