Friday, November 22, 2019
Discovering the Genes Behind Sleep
Scientists have been trying to uncover the mechanism and purpose of sleep for decades. We know that all animals must sleep to survive and that there is a circadian rhythm which prepares the body for rest. What we do not yet know is how the body determines how much sleep it needs. Three genes have recently been identified as being related to sleep. These genes were identified by looking for matching mutations within a family who's sleep cycle is set 4 hours ahead of most of the population.
While these three genes do not change much on their own, this is a step towards improving our health. Currently the only measure of whether or not you are getting enough sleep is how sleepy you feel. The hope is that after all sleep genes have been identified, we will have a more quantifiable answer to that question. After studying the sleep genes, scientists will be able to determine how much sleep you need, what is a disorder vs what is habit, and when your body is best able to go to sleep. Some people feel well rested with less sleep than others, seemingly reducing the harmful effects of deprivation. Understanding the genes that cause this may open the way to for medication that helps people feel well rested.
As someone who has never been able to get sound sleep at a reasonable hour, I would like to know if it is because of lifestyle choices or a genetic predisposition. I hope this project gets completed quickly and accomplishes everything it set out to because I, and almost half of all Americans, do not get enough sleep.