Sleep in your genes: Why some people are ‘elite sleepers’

Some people are gifted with genes that allow them to be peppy after only four or six hours of sleep

9 Facts About Sleeping

When it comes to sleep, quality matters.

“There’s a dogma in the field that everyone needs eight hours of sleep, but our work to date confirms that the amount of sleep people need differs based on genetics,” said neurologist Louis Ptacek, MD, one of the senior authors of a new s study. “Think of it as analogous to height; there’s no perfect amount of height, each person is different. We’ve shown that the case is similar for sleep.”

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found some people are gifted with genes that allow them to be peppy and energetic after only four or six hours of sleep instead of eight.

These “elite sleepers,” the scientists said, also show a resistance to neurodegenerative conditions.

For more than a decade, Ptacek and co-author Ying-Hui Fu, PhD, have been studying people with Familial Natural Short Sleep, which is the ability to function fully on — and have a preference for — four to six hours of sleep a night. They have shown FNSS runs in families and, thus far, have identified five genes that play a role in enabling this efficient sleep.

They also tested Fu’s hypothesis that “elite sleep” can protect a person against neurodegenerative disease, which is counter to current thinking that less sleep correlates to accelerated damage. The difference, Fu said, is that with FNSS, the brain accomplishes its sleep tasks in a shorter time. In other words, less time spent efficiently sleeping may not equate to a lack of sleep.

The team chose to look at mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease because that condition is so prevalent, Fu said. They bred mice that had both an FNSS gene and genes that predisposed them to Alzheimer’s and found the mice brains developed fewer markers associated with dementia.

“Sleep problems are common in all diseases of the brain,” she added. “This makes sense because sleep is a complex activity. Many parts of your brain have to work together for you to fall asleep and to wake up. When these parts of the brain are damaged, it makes it harder to sleep or get quality sleep.” The study appeared Tuesday in the journal iScience.

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