From the bears hibernating up in the mountains to the ants snoozing under rocks to humans curled up in fluffy beds, sleep connects us all because we need sleep to survive and function. Doctors recommend that humans get an average of 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Without sleep humans face many consequences like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, obesity and the risk of other disorders. Our circadian clock controls the human wake cycle, but there is so much more which affects our sleep and in turn, our health.
There are numerous factors that affect different characteristics of our sleep pattern regarding the timing of sleep onset and the depth and duration of one’s sleep. The release of the hormone melatonin is what causes the sleepiness people feel before they go to bed. It is produced in the pineal gland of the brain and when it is produced it helps the body know when it is time to sleep and the drop of its production in the morning lets the body know it is time to wake up. Another factor that scientists have started researching more about is how genes impact our sleep cycle and even lead to sleeping disorders.
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Millions of people all over the world suffer from sleeping disorders like insomnia or just simply have trouble falling asleep and have thought it to be because of psychological factors, but what if it is simply programmed in our genes?
To discover more about how our genes affect our sleep, scientists did a study on 300 men to see the effect of the FABP7 gene. Some of the men had a variant of this gene and scientists discovered that these men woke up more during their night and slept more restlessly than those with the “normal” variant of the gene. Discovering this link of the FABP7 gene and how it affected sleep patterns started more experiments with other genes and how it affected a different part of sleep, the human circadian clock.
The circadian clock controls our sleep-wake cycles. People who carry a variant of this gene, CRY1, are found to have delayed sleep disorder which may cause them to have trouble falling asleep at night, similar to experiencing jet lag, but every day. Due to this delay in sleep, these people with the variant CRY1 gene are at a higher risk of getting diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.
Even during sleep the brain is still active and this is important for learning and memory, but certain genes can lead to sleeping disorders, like insomnia, that make it harder for the brain to do its job. Insomnia is usually linked with anxiety, depression, and other psychological battles, but new research suggests that there are seven genes linked with insomnia that also are linked to restless leg syndrome, or RSL. What causes insomnia may have been hidden in our genes all along, it is not just psychological. This acknowledgment that many cannot sleep because of what lies in their DNA means that, in the future, there may be a cure for restless sleep.
This biological link of genes to sleep is new research that scientists are experimenting with and although they are still discovering information on this topic, they believe that one day this connection can lead to a better understanding of how these specific pieces of DNA affects controlled mechanism that are connected with our sleep. This knowledge can be used to improve the lives of many with sleeping disorders.
New research brings hope to those who have insomnia, narcolepsy and other disorders that one day they will be able to get a good night’s rest. Sleep is very important in human’s physical and psychological health because it heals the body and the lack of sleep can increase the risk of obtaining heart disease, kidney disease diabetes, etc. As more research is being discovered of how genes affect sleep, there is the hope that this knowledge will help millions improve their health and sleep peacefully. I think I am going to go take a nap now, sleep is important after all.