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Can’t sleep? Your genes may be to blame

Poor sleep quality may be genetic, according to one of the largest new studies of its kind.

Researchers from the University of Exeter along with an international team from France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts General Hospital conducted the study.

It’s the largest genetic study of its kind to use accelerometer data to investigate the potential genetic links to poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation.

“We know that getting enough sleep improves our health and wellbeing, yet we still know relatively little about the mechanisms in our bodies that influence how we sleep,” said Andrew Wood, the senior author of the study. “Changes in sleep quality, quantity and timing are strongly associated with several human diseases such as diabetes and obesity, and psychiatric disorders.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers reviewed and analyzed data from 85,670 participants of the UK Biobank and 5,819 participants from three other studies.

All participants wore accelerometers on their wrist, which constantly measure activity levels and are a reliable way to measure and assess sleep habits compared to self-reported sleep diaries.

After analyzing the data, the researchers identified 47 genetic links to sleep quality, duration, and timing including 10 new links to sleep duration and 26 to sleep quality that were previously unknown.

These links, including a gene called PDE11A, could explain why some people have trouble staying asleep, falling asleep, or getting enough restful deep sleep.

A variant of the PDE11A gene, for example, was found to impact sleep duration and quality.

The genetic links to sleep quality were also connected to the production of serotonin which is important in influencing sleep cycles and deep sleep.

“This study identifies genetic variants influencing sleep traits, and will provide new insights into the molecular role of sleep in humans,” said Samuel Jones, the lead author of the study. “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.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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