Can't sleep? Could be down to genetics

March 9, 2018, Springer
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Researchers have identified specific genes that may trigger the development of sleep problems, and have also demonstrated a genetic link between insomnia and psychiatric disorders such as depression, or physical conditions such as type 2 diabetes. The study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry was led by Murray Stein of the University of California San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

Up to 20 percent of Americans and up to 50 percent of US military veterans are said to have trouble sleeping. The effects has on a person's health can be debilitating and place a strain on the healthcare system. Chronic insomnia goes hand in hand with various long-term health issues such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as mental illness such as (PTSD) and suicide.

Twin studies have in the past shown that various sleep-related traits, including insomnia, are heritable. Based on these findings, researchers have started to look into the specific gene variants involved. Stein says such studies are important, given the vast range of reasons why people suffer from insomnia, and the different symptoms and varieties of sleeplessness that can be experienced.

"A better understanding of the molecular bases for insomnia will be critical for the development of new treatments," he adds.

In this study, Stein's research team conducted genome-wide association studies (GWAS). DNA samples obtained from more than 33,000 soldiers participating in the Army Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (STARRS) were analyzed. Data from soldiers of European, African and Latino descent were grouped separately as part of efforts to identify the influence of specific ancestral lineages. Stein and his colleagues also compared their results with those of two recent studies that used data from the UK Biobank.

Overall, the study confirms that insomnia has a partially heritable basis. The researchers also found a strong genetic link between insomnia and type 2 diabetes. Among participants of European descent, there was additionally a genetic tie between sleeplessness and major depression.

"The genetic correlation between insomnia disorder and other psychiatric disorders, such as major depression, and physical disorders such as type 2 diabetes suggests a shared genetic diathesis for these commonly co-occurring phenotypes," says Stein, who adds that the findings strengthen similar conclusions from prior twin and genome-wide association studies.

Insomnia was linked to the occurrence of specific variants on chromosome 7. In people of European descent, there were also differences on chromosome 9. The variant on chromosome 7, for instance, is close to AUTS2, a gene that has been linked to alcohol consumption, as well as others that relate to brain development and sleep-related electric signaling.

"Several of these variants rest comfortably among locations and pathways already known to be related to sleep and circadian rhythms," Stein elaborates. "Such insomnia associated loci may contribute to the genetic risk underlying a range of health conditions including and metabolic disease."

Explore further: Sleepless in Japan—How insomnia kills

More information: Murray B. Stein et al, Genome-wide analysis of insomnia disorder, Molecular Psychiatry (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41380-018-0033-5

Related Stories

Sleepless in Japan—How insomnia kills

February 9, 2018
Lay people tend to think that insomnia is usually a symptom of something else, like stress, a bad diet or a sedentary lifestyle, but this may not be true at all. It is possible that insomnia itself causes many of the conditions ...

People who worry about insomnia have more health problems than non-worriers, study finds

November 7, 2017
People who worry about poor sleep have more emotional and physical problems during the day than those who do not worry, regardless of how well either sleep, according to research conducted at The University of Alabama.

Insomnia genes found

June 12, 2017
An international team of researchers has found, for the first time, seven risk genes for insomnia. With this finding the researchers have taken an important step towards the unravelling of the biological mechanisms that cause ...

Twin study suggests genetic factors contribute to insomnia in children, teens

January 5, 2015
A new study of twins suggests that insomnia in childhood and adolescence is partially explained by genetic factors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia with psychiatric, medical conditions

July 6, 2015
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely used nonpharmacologic treatment for insomnia disorders and an analysis of the medical literature suggests it also can work for patients whose insomnia is coupled with psychiatric and ...

Recommended for you

Videogame loot boxes similar to gambling

June 19, 2018
Adolescents playing video games that offer randomised rewards to increase competitive advantage could possibly be exposed to mechanisms that are psychologically similar to gambling, according to new research just published ...

Mental health declining among disadvantaged American adults

June 19, 2018
American adults of low socioeconomic status report increasing mental distress and worsening well-being, according to a new study by Princeton University and Georgetown University.

Genes associated with infantile forms of schizophrenia identified

June 19, 2018
Scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) and McGill University have identified novel genes associated with a specific form of schizophrenia.

Kids grasp that you get what you pay for

June 19, 2018
From a young age, children have a nuanced understanding of fairness.

Study on social interactions could improve understanding of mental health risks

June 19, 2018
McLean Hospital investigators have released the results of a study that outlines how age, socioeconomic status, and other factors might contribute to social isolation and poorer mental health. In a paper published in the ...

Researchers find increased risk of birth defects in babies after first-trimester exposure to lithium

June 18, 2018
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found an elevated risk of major congenital malformations in fetuses after first-trimester exposure to lithium, in the largest study ever to examine the risk of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.