How Your Genes Affect Sleep Patterns

When your alarm rings at 6 am do you leap out of bed and go for a run and happily sing in the shower or are you the type that groans and pulls the sheets over your face to catch a few more minutes of shut-eye? Studies have found that whether you are a night owl or a morning bird could depend on your genes. This means that no matter how hard you try to wake up in the early a.m. or stay alert to finish a movie, your genetics may have the final say. It also could mean that when daylight savings hits, both categories are in for a hard adjustment, as the body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock) will be jolted. Let’s take a look at why your genes may affect your sleep patterns.


The Sleep Gene


The concept of changing yourself from a night to morning person is quite widely believed. Those that can’t easily wake up in the morning are often viewed as being lazy while those that fall asleep early in the night are seen as boring. However, scientifically these concepts have been turned on their head. In 2001, researchers from the University of Utah found a sleep gene that they named hPer2, which was only discovered in those that go to bed around 7 pm and wake up at 4 am. This finding established the fact that your gene makeup determines your sleep preferences, instead of adapting or being conditioned to your environment.


More Sleep Gene Discoveries


In 2003, scientists in the United Kingdom found another sleep gene that they named Period 3. This gene was found to regulate the body’s internal clock. For those who are early-risers, the gene is longer, whereas those that are night owls, the gene tends to be shorter. Additionally, in 2009 the same Utah researchers who discovered the hPer2 gene found the first circadian rhythm gene. They called it DEC2-in and was only discovered in those who get a small amount of sleep, typically less than 6.6 hours.


Discovery of Genetic Sleep Variance Means


The hope is that identifying genetic differences in sleep will aid researchers in better understanding the culprits of sleep disorders and other diseases. Although the findings suggest that there are minimal sleep amount differences between genetic variations, it can mean big things for researchers. Researching genetic differences in sleep may lead researchers to discover a wider picture of how some genes have an impact on prevailing conditions like diabetes and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Due to the fact sleep duration has been linked to conditions like depressions, diabetes, and blood pressure, this discovery can be huge for finding the cure for such diseases.


How the Sleep Gene Affects Chances of Disease


Researchers are not sure exactly how sleep genes have an impact on the chances of some diseases developing. However, some researchers believe that the gene variation can cause sleep disturbances, which then leads to health issues like high blood pressure. On the other hand, other researchers believe that the sleep gene itself causes the health problems, as the majority of genes have more than one function. Whatever the case, researchers have identified that those with genes that cause them to sleep longer also have lower blood sugar levels and lower levels of ADHD.


Altering Your Sleep Patterns


No matter your gene makeup, you can change your sleep habits to a certain extent. Whenever you are expecting a change in your sleep patterns, for instance when going to a different time zone or for daylight savings time, you should start readjusting your sleep schedule a week in advance. You can do this by cutting some time off of your regular bedtime every night before the change in time occurs. You may also want to bump up your meal times in small increments as well to more smoothly adjust your body’s circadian rhythm.