Are Genes Affecting Your Sleep?
I've always been a little fascinated with sleep--maybe because I'm a pretty light sleeper and I'm really envious of people who can just sleep for hours and hours. I grew up with a sister who would never rise before 10 or 11 a.m. on the weekends. My current roommate will sometimes sleep until noon.
Like I mentioned before, I'm pretty jealous of their ability to sleep so much. No matter what time I go to bed, whether it's at 10 p.m. or 2 a.m., you can bet I'm going to wake up at 7 a.m., no matter if it's a weekday or a weekend. I have this internal alarm clock that always goes off; if I get to sleep in until 8 a.m. on the weekend, I consider myself lucky.
When I'm worried about something, my anxiety affects my sleep first and foremost. When I was in college and worked on our student newspaper, on deadline nights I would usually only get 1 to 4 hours of sleep, and I'd be a walking zombie the next day through all my classes. My roommates enjoyed making me play Rummy with them on those days because I was practically delirious, always forgetting the rules. Apparently, they thought it was hilarious. Bottom line: I can function on a few hours of sleep, but not very well.
But then there were those friends in college who would not get a good night's rest for days on end but would be perfectly fine. Another editor on the student newspaper, Drew, had so many responsibilities that he would consistently only get a few hours of sleep a night for days on end, and he always seemed to be functioning fairly well, under the circumstances.
It seems the difference between Drew and I could potentially be in our genes. A recent study looked at two groups of individuals, one who has a gene variant closely associated with narcolepsy (although not always causing the illness) and those who don't have the gene variant. The participants visited a sleep lab, and for the first two nights, everyone spent 10 hours in bed. The next five nights, the participants were only allowed to sleep for 4 hours each night.
The researchers tested the participants' sleepiness by testing their memory and attention, having them self-evaluate their level of tiredness and watching their ability to stay awake during the daytime.
The study found those with the gene variant were sleepier when fully rested and sleep deprived than those without the variant.
The researchers say this gene could potentially be a biomarker for predicting how people respond to sleep deprivation, and could one day help predict how someone would function working on the night shift, for example.
Especially for those working the night shift or those who have worked it in the past, what do you do to maintain healthy sleep habits?