Poor sleep quality and duration may be rooted in genetics

Many lifestyle and home factors can contribute to a night of poor sleep, but there may be another hidden element you can blame: genetics. Researchers have identified around four dozen genetic links to both sleep quality and duration, according to a new study, and variants of these genes may play a role in overall poor sleep experiences. The study also found genetic associations with the timing of sleep.

Adequate, restful sleep remains a vital aspect of an overall healthy lifestyle. Poor sleep quality has been associated with both immediate and long-term health effects, including reduced concentration, depression, and more severe things like heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. Insomnia is perhaps the most severe sleep disturbance, but the effects of chronically restless, short duration sleep add up over time.

The study titled Genetic studies of accelerometer-based sleep measures yield new insights into human sleep behaviour found 47 genetic associations across eight sleep traits pertaining to the timing, quality, and duration of sleep. Ten of these genetic links related to sleep duration are new, as are 26 associated with sleep quality.

The findings were derived from data on 85,670 UK Biobank participants and 5,819 people from three other studies. The participants wore Fitbit trackers for continuous activity tracking over seven days, including of their sleep habits. This provided researchers with direct access to sleep data rather than forcing them to rely on self-reported info.

The results include one gene in particular, PDE11A, that includes an uncommon variant impacting both sleep duration and quality. Interestingly enough, the same gene was previously noted as a potential drug target for treating certain behavioral and mood stability disorders.

According to the study, the genetic links are also involved in serotonin production, a neurotransmitter known to have a positive effect on sleep quality. Other findings include an association between Restless Leg Syndrome and lower sleep quality, as well as slightly reduced sleep duration correlated with higher waist circumference.