October 25th, 2010
04:27 PM ET

How you react to lost sleep may be in your genes

Genetics may affect an individual's response to sleep deprivation, according to a study published in the journal Neurology.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine studied 92 people who did not carry the gene DQB1*0602 and 37 people who were carriers of the gene, whom they considered to be healthy sleepers. The gene is closely associated with narcolepsy, a disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and caused by the brain's inability to normally regulate sleep-wake cycles. Not everyone who has the gene variant has narcolepsy.

In the study, subjects spent 10 hours in bed during the first two baseline nights. On the following five nights, they were given only four hours to spend in bed, and the rest of the night was spent awake reading, playing games, watching movies or talking with staff, to replicate partial sleep deprivation.

The researchers found the test subjects with people the gene variant rated themselves as being more sleepy while fully rested and sleep deprived.

"When we looked at their physiological sleep, we looked at the drive to sleep, we found that they had lower levels than the negative people," said study author Dr. Namni Goel.

Researchers also found individuals who carry the gene have more fragmented sleep, which translates into less deeper, more restorative sleep typically found in Stage 3 sleep; instead, more time was spent in stage 2 sleep. The presence of the gene did not impact memory and cognitive performance; both groups showed a slowdown, according to the researchers.

Goel noted that the study participants were all between 22 and 45 years of age. "You can't generalize our findings. It really is restricted to that population," she said.

"Different genes are probably regulating different aspects-whether it's how you rate yourself or how you perform, or this inherent sleep drive," Goel added. "This is one gene and we're continuing to look for others. The data should be replicated, but it gives us a hint of why some people respond better than others to sleep loss."

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soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Elle

    When sleep deprived, my response is almost always to way oversleep. and this has been the story of my life! i envy those with the ability to sleep well!

    October 25, 2010 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Constantine

    I wish i could oversleep – somehow too busy

    October 25, 2010 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Amy

    I've suffered from horrible sleep patterns my entire adult life. No matter how exhausted I am, it takes me at least an hour to finally drift off and the slightest interruption or noise awakens me–which then means another whole hour or longer before I can fall asleep again. One of my kids coughing, my husband rolling over in bed, a car driving down my street–it takes almost nothing. This happens every night. As a result, I am usually not as sharp and doze off for brief periods of napping throughout the day. Earplugs don't help as the loss of hearing raises my anxiety level. I hope this research helps find a solution to this debilitating problem.

    November 1, 2010 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. NoSuchThingAsAnOpinion

    Want to outwit someone who placed among the top 100 in the world in intelligence?
    Google "NoSuchThingAsAnOpinion"

    November 1, 2010 at 08:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Augustine

    Come on CNN. The article says "you can't generalize these findings, it's restricted to that population." And you're throwing around headlines that genearlize their findings to the standard population. This only applies to individuals who have the gene that is often characterized by narcolepsy. This article applies to about 1.6% of the population (the percent of the population that may have the 'nacolepsy gene.')

    November 1, 2010 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • augman

      So then the Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, and the rest of the religions in which meditation is an integral part are all wrong?

      November 2, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
  6. Bill

    I'm 80 years old and have experienced insomnia and daytime drowsiness for as long as I can remember. I get some relief from a) taking one benadryl at bedtime and b) using a C-PAP device. I also tried using the prescription drug Provigil for a few weeks, but it was marginally effective and extremely expensive.

    November 1, 2010 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. augman

    A very good intro. We need to understand that meditation is as natural as eating or sleeping, and that it's easy. If you can think, you can meditate. Most people new to it fall prey to "trying" to meditate. One needs to constantly remind oneself to "let it be easy" at first, and within a few weeks, we're on our way. Soon we look forward to our "quiet time" and would no more skip a meditation than we'd skip a meal or a night's sleep.

    November 2, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.