Mutant Gene Causes People to Need Less Shut-Eye
August 17, 2009 8:22 AM
The average person needs 8.5 hours of sleep a night, but a newly discovered mutation causes some to only need 6.25 hours on average and to be more energetic.
(Source: Sun Sentinel)
Forget the caffeine, this genetic mutation may be even better at keeping you up at night
If you have a friend that only sleeps for 5 or 6 hours a night, they may not be unhealthy, they may in fact be a mutant. Humans, like
any other species
, are constantly
mutating and evolving
and one recent genetic change has been the appearance of people who require less sleep.
Scientists have tracked the condition to a mutant copy of the gene
controls circadian rhythms and oxygen regulation in mammals. Mice bred with the abnormal copy of the gene were more active and slept less than their peers which had the typical wild type gene.
The mutation arises from a single swapped base pair. Much is still unknown. It is unknown what metabolic pathways the gene breaks or modifies based on the minor change. What is clear, though is that it decreases the occurrence of the negative health effects typically associated with sleep deprivation, such as mood or metabolic changes.
Also unknown is the long term health effects of the gene. Sleep researcher Ying-Hui Fu of the University of California, San Francisco who helped discover the gene and coauthored the first paper on it comments, "Finding the mutation is just the first step. To understand the mechanism is really what’s important for us. We want to understand the how, what and why of sleep — how does it affect our health?"
The mutation reduces the optimal sleep time from 8.5 hours a night to 6.25 hours a night. It also cuts the tendency to engage in "catch up sleep" after periods of less rest. The mutation appears to be rather rare, only found in one of 70 families studied.
The two individuals with the unusual adaptation are being studied in hopes of gaining insight into the mutation and potentially
developing new drugs
. Describes Mr. Fu, "My fantasy is that as we understand more about how sleep quantitatively affects other health pathways, and we understand more about the mechanism of sleep and how it’s regulated in terms of how much we need, someday we’d be able to modulate it in a safe way. So people could sleep less without it affecting their health."
The new research is
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