Why do some people need way less sleep?

Scientists have singled out a gene that is believed to directly affect how much sleep someone needs.

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Although we spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping, we know remarkably little about sleep. However, recently group of scientists has identified a gene that directly impacts how much someone sleeps. 

Researchers analyzed the DNA of a family that has several members that function normally with just 6 hours of sleep per day. The analysis led to the discovery of a gene called ADRB1. It was identified by the use of genetic linkage studies and whole-exome sequencing. The scientists published their conclusions in an article in the journal Neuron.

Louis Ptáček, one of the lead authors, stated that the research unveiled a fascinating new frontier when it comes to investigating the different types of neurons that contribute to sleep and wakefulness. 

After identifying the gene, the researchers carried out several experiments in mice bearing a mutated variant of the gene. They discovered that those mice slept approximately 55 minutes less than normal mice without this gene. 

There are some limitations associated with the use of mice in sleep studies. Mice have different sleep patterns from humans. They sleep in scattered patterns rather than once a day as we humans do. According to Louis Ptáček, however, studying humans is also pretty tricky because we drink coffee and sometimes go against our biological tendencies by, for example, staying up late. 

The researchers predict that there are multiple genes and regions of the brain that influence our bodies' sleep and waking habits. They, therefore, plan on studying the function of the ADRB1 protein in other parts of the brain. The second lead author, Ying-Hui Fu, stated that the research might eventually be useful for the development of new types of sleep medicine. 

We will see what the future brings with regards to a better understanding of sleep and perhaps superior sleep medication. Sleep is essential for our brains. The more we learn about it, the better. 

Sources and further reading: A Rare Mutation of β1-Adrenergic Receptor Affects Sleep/Wake Behaviors / Sleep / Cell Press news release

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