If you can't get enough high-quality sleep, a new study just might point the way to the source of your problem. 

An international team of researchers led by the University of Exeter analyzed data from over 90,000 individuals in the U.K. and found dozens of new links between sleep duration, sleep quality, and our genetics. 

Specifically, a gene called PDE11A features prominently in how our genetic code affects our restful hours, or lack thereof. The team found that a relatively rare variant of this gene can impact how long and how well a person sleeps. This same gene has also been associated with mood stability in other research.

The study was published in a recent issue of Nature Communications.

"This study identifies genetic variants influencing sleep traits, and will provide new insights into the molecular role of sleep in humans," said lead author Dr. Samuel Jones, of the University of Exeter Medical School. "It is part of an emerging body of work which could one day inform the development of new treatments to improve our sleep and our overall health."

The genetic regions linked to sleep quality also play a role in the production of the brain chemical Serotonin, which has become well-known for bringing on feelings of happiness, as well as affecting our sleep cycles. 

The study yielded one other interesting finding: among people with the same hip circumference, a higher waist circumference resulted in less time sleeping, although by a tiny amount -- just four seconds less sleep per centimeter of increased waist size. There's not enough here to draw any real conclusions, but the implication appears to be a possible link between extra weight around the waistline and less sleep. 

For now, the main takeaway is that if you have trouble sleeping, your genetics could be part of the problem. This insight could lead to the development of new treatments or technologies, perhaps like the gene-editing tool CRISPR, that could one day "fix" that pesky genetic variant.

But that's likely a long, long way down the road. Until then, there are a number of other proven techniques that might help.

Published on: May 29, 2019
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