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Are Your Genes To Blame For All Those Sleepless Nights?

posted on 6/16/2016 Facebook Facebook

If you have blamed everything from stress, hectic work schedules, your family and even your unfulfilled goals to those sleepless nights, then there’s a fair possibility that you might be missing a big piece of the puzzle. Thousands of perfectly healthy individuals suffer from a compulsive lack of sleep, medically known as insomnia, which could singularly leave many of us totally insane. 

Imagine not being able to sleep at all? Sounds scary right? But if you find yourself tossing and turning in the middle of the night unable to fall into the abyss of nothingness, your genes might be to blame. Yes! Your DNA is responsible for more than just those deep blue eyes and that thick lush of perfectly brown, beautiful and shiny hair. The role of genetics in health has received enormous attention in the recent years. Ever yday scientists are finding the association of different genes and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s etc. A quite unprecedented connection has been identified between genes and sleep. Let’s explore it in detail. 

Genes & Insomnia: The Uncommon Yet Existing Connection
Up until recently, insomnia was accounted as a purely psychological disorder triggered by severe emotional and mental baggage, stress, and sleep deprivation due to ‘shift’ work or travel. However, according to a recent study published in the journal Sleep, genetics have been shown to play a significant role in developing insomnia. By examining the data from about 7,500 twins, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University discovered a genetic component to insomnia which was inherited by 59 % of the female participants and about 38% of the male participants. This makes a genetic link very persuasive. 

Besides, lacking the required genes, did you know that just one week of mild sleep deprivation can affect the function of about 700 genes in your body? One research study pointed out that excessive sleeping during the day may disrupt approximately one-third of your genes. And this disruption can throw off your circadian rhythm—the 24-hour cycle which controls your sleep-wake system and other bodily functions like metabolism, stress, and immune function. In short, severe insomnia can hamper your overall health. 

The genes which have been found to play an important role in affecting sleep patterns are as follows:
1. The PER3 gene is known to influence the circadian system. A variation in this gene, PER3(4/4) is known to make people more vulnerable to insomnia. 

2. Gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is well established that activation of GABA receptors favors sleep. A mutation (R192H) in the gene encoding this neurotransmitter is widespread in patients suffering from chronic insomnia. 

3. Neuromedin U (Nmu) gene has been found to regulate the sleep cycle. Overexpression of this gene was shown to induce nighttime wakefulness and therefore have a profound effect on insomnia.

What Can You Do? Treating Genetic Insomnia
Genetic testing is the only way to know for certain whether your genes are scaring away the sandman. However, according to experts, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), also known as the talking therapy can be effective to offset the effects of genetic insomnia. No matter what is keeping you up at night here are a few tricks to promote a good night’s sleep:

1. Foods such as cherries, walnuts, yogurt, bananas are all good sources of tryptophan,  a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin (the body clock hormones which control your sleep-wake cycles)

2. Implement a relaxing bedtime routine, perhaps having a warm bath, some gentle yoga or meditation. This can help those predisposed to insomnia overcome their gene’s stress response and help promote sleep.

3. Try a herbal tea such as chamomile or passion fruit which has mild sedative properties. 

1. Franken, P. and Dijk, D.-J. (2009), Circadian clock genes and sleep homeostasis. European Journal of Neuroscience, 29: 1820–1829. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2009.06723.
2. Harvey CJ, Gehrman P, Espie CA. Who is predisposed to insomnia: a review of familial aggregation, stress-reactivity, personality and coping style. Sleep Med Rev. 2014 Jun;18(3):237-47. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2013.11.004. Epub 2013 Nov 28. Review. PubMed PMID: 24480386.
3. Barclay NL, Gehrman PR, Gregory AM, Eaves LJ, Silberg JL. The heritability of insomnia progression during childhood/adolescence: results from a longitudinal twin study. Sleep. 2015 Jan 1;38(1):109-18. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4334. PubMed PMID: 25325458; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4262942.
4. Palagini L, Biber K, Riemann D. The genetics of insomnia--evidence for epigenetic mechanisms? Sleep Med Rev. 2014 Jun;18(3):225-35. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2013.05.002. Epub 2013 Aug 7. Review. PubMed PMID: 23932332.
5. Brower KJ, Wojnar M, Sliwerska E, Armitage R, Burmeister M. PER3 polymorphism and insomnia severity in alcohol dependence. Sleep. 2012 Apr 1;35(4):571-7. doi:10.5665/sleep.1748. PubMed PMID: 22467995; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3296799.
6. Buhr A, Bianchi MT, Baur R, Courtet P, Pignay V, Boulenger JP, Gallati S, Hinkle DJ, Macdonald RL, Sigel E. Functional characterization of the new human GABA(A) receptor mutation beta3(R192H). Hum Genet. 2002 Aug;111(2):154-60. Epub 2002 Jul 16. PubMed PMID: 12189488.

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