A Newly Discovered Gene Helps Explain Why Some People Need Less Sleep
Those thriving on a few hours’ sleep may benefit from gene mutation
In 2009, Ying-Hui Fu started getting a flood of emails from people who claimed to only need a few hours of sleep at night. Fu and her colleague and spouse, Louis Ptáček, both at the University of California, San Francisco, had just identified a gene mutation that significantly decreased how many hours someone needs to sleep. It was the first such gene discovered. Now, it seemed, the entirety of the short-sleeping universe was deluging her inbox.
One man described how he only slept about five and a half hours each night. His son slept a bit more than four. But the two were happy, energetic, and healthy. They weren’t cranky or forgetful like most sleep-deprived people would be. Fu’s lab interviewed the pair, enrolled them in a study, and took samples of their blood.
Using those samples, Fu and Ptáček have now identified a new gene mutation associated with short sleepers, which they describe in a paper out today in Science Translational Medicine. The mutation is helping scientists understand how our bodies regulate sleep. It’s only the third short-sleep mutation found so far, though Fu and other scientists suspect there are several more.
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