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Scientists Identify Eight ‘Sleep Disorder’ Genes

By Bettyjoe Cooper

Including medication, it can take quite a lot to make some people sleep. The latest research suggests that some genes are responsible for sleeplessness.

Insomnia is a state of being unable to sleep. Sometimes it can be as a result of stress from work, family and other situations. But it is also sometimes how people’s brains and bodies function.

For the first time, researchers have been able to identify eight genes that cause insomnia or excessive sleepiness during the day. Feeling tired and weak during waking hours could also be a result of not getting enough sleep, other sleep disorders, drugs or a health issue.

The research also showed that some of the genes attributed to disturbed sleep patterns appear connected to other disorders as well. These include restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia and obesity.

Dr Richa Saxena, study co-author and Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said: “It was known that sleep disturbances may co-occur with many diseases in humans, but it was not known that there are shared genetic components that contribute both to sleep problems and these conditions.”

About 30 per cent of people all over the world have some type of sleep disorder, according to experts. They also suggested that almost 10 per cent of people in the US have symptoms that are clinically described as insomnia.

Biological traits inherited from family lineage affects sleep. So do environmental factors such as noise, broken sleep (nursing mothers) and stress. Earlier research has shown genes are associated with other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea. Yet, these are the first genes directly linked to insomnia.

Disturbed sleep gene connected to other diseases

The study concentrated on widespread instances of insomnia and other sleep disorders in over 100,000 UK adults. For accurate results from this health exercise, the genes of the participants were documented together with other vital information such as weight and other medical issues. This revealed strong links to some health issues like restless legs syndrome, insulin resistance, depression, schizophrenia and obesity.

The traits associated with people sleeping longer on average showed a link to schizophrenia risk. The genes linked with excessive daytime sleepiness were also linked to obesity.

Dr Saxena found that earlier epidemiological studies into sleep problems suggested there was a connection. “But it was not known (until this study) that there are shared genetic components shared underlying biological pathways that contribute to both sleep problems and these shared conditions,” she said.

Many other genes

might also be involved

According to Dr Saxena, finding it hard to sleep at night is unlikely to lead to a higher risk of having restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia and obesity. She further said that,“this research is not yet able to determine if disturbed sleep causes these disorders or vice versa.”

Dr Saxena said that in reality, it is possible that many different genes gave rise to both sleep troubles and these medical issues. But this new study shows some relationships. She conceded that they are a long way away from assisting anyone to sleep better or practically treat these various problems, but she hopes that it will help researchers to design and test different drugs to treat sleep disorders. It’s great news that there may be a genetic explanation to why people with these problems are more likely to have trouble sleeping.

• Bettyjoe Cooper is a self-published author and the founder of the Brand New Mattress Company, a retailer of bedding products located in Nassau.

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