What’s DNA Have to Do With Your Sleep? Apparently, a Lot.

As an adult, no doubt you’ve become familiar with the nuances of your body and the way it operates. For example, you may tell friends that you’re a “light sleeper”, or a “morning person”, or perhaps you fall more in line with the “night owls.”  And, you know whether you can sail through an all-nighter, or if you require three cups of coffee in the morning before you can think critically.

While you may have previously chalked up your sleep behavior to lifestyle or personality, new clues link DNA as a factor that influences the quality of your sleep. In fact, DNA may reveal why some people power through work on just a handful of hours of sleep, almost effortlessly—while others in similar situations stumble through work presentations or misplace their house keys in a fog.

 One study of genetics and sleep behavior resulted in a startling discovery: 80% of people’s susceptibility to the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation was guided by their genetics. And in another study, one scientist observed a mother and her daughter in a sleep study. Both mother and daughter received just six hours of sleep each night, certainly well below the recommended amount for optimal cognitive function. However, this mother and daughter shared a gene mutation. The mutation was located within a gene that regulates circadian rhythms—and when the mutation was inserted into mice genomes, the mice could still function well on less sleep.
In other studies, two areas of DNA were found to be crucial to sleep behavior. One region was linked to long periods of sleep, much more than what’s considered average. This area is also correlated to more efficient glucose metabolism,. And the other DNA region was related to short sleep cycles, along with an increased risk of schizophrenia and depression.

So, what does this mean for the average health-conscious human? This information isn’t just fascinating; there’s a very real practical side, too.

Knowing your sleep behavior—and how you react on little sleep—may impact life choices, such as which profession you choose, and how you improve your quality of life.

Understanding these variants in genes also helps doctors and the pharmaceutical industry to create new tests and solutions, like new drugs to treat sleep deprivation.

Additionally, scientists are continuing to study the long-term effects sleep behavior. In other words, just because one may function well on little sleep and another person may require a solid eight hours, the long-term consequences of each experience remains a mystery. How does sleep affect other disorders and diseases, such as diabetes, strokes, heart attacks and even postpartum depression?

Findings like this are certainly just one of many to come. It’s likely hardwired in your DNA, waiting to be discovered.