Genes may be responsible for the difference in our sleep needs.
If you've ever wondered why your partner, who goes to bed after you every night and rises at dawn, always seems fresh in the morning while you can barely put one foot in front of the other, the following information may interest you! Researchers at the University of San Francisco have identified a gene that could explain these inequalities. Given the numerous conditions such as Alzheimer's or cardiovascular diseases that could be influenced by lack of sleep, this discovery rekindles the debate over gene therapies to combat sleep disorders.
While the average amount of sleep most of us need is 7 to 8 hours per night, some people feel perfectly rested after just 6 hours. The fundamental difference lies in a genetic mutation of the BHLHE4 gene, also known as DEC2, which was identified a few years ago as the "short sleep gene" by researchers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Scientists studied the sleep patterns of a hundred pairs of twins, including 59 monozygotic or identical twins and 41 dizygotic twins, over 8 nights. Through regular assessments of their cognitive performance obtained via a vigilance test, researchers confirmed that carriers of the gene mutation required fewer hours of sleep per night and recovered more quickly than others after a sleepless night.
More recently, after 10 years of research, researchers at the University of San Francisco discovered a second mutation associated with natural short sleep. This mutation contributes to the development of a brain that is easier to wake up and can stay awake longer without adverse effects. Thanks to this gene mutation, neurons that promote wakefulness are more easily activated.
These experiments highlight the genetic aspect of inequalities in sleep. Those involved emphasize that people without such mutations must be particularly vigilant about the duration and quality of their sleep because it is a biological need that is dangerous to neglect. Chronic sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences, except for natural short sleepers with related genetic mutations. Their sleep is more efficient and of higher quality. Nowadays, it is sometimes difficult to listen to our genuine needs because our societal habits favor artificial wakefulness and the consumption of stimulants like coffee to stay awake. However, a false sense of rest does not mitigate the negative effects of sleep deprivation on our health.
Numerous specialists, based on several scientific studies, have emphasized a range of negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation on our health. While in the short term, a decrease in efficiency, sensory perception, memory capabilities, and learning faculties remind us of how imperative sleep is as a biological need, repeated sleep deprivation over the long term can lead to various more or less serious health conditions.
A significant correlation has been established between sleep deprivation and the risk of heart attacks or strokes. Even mild sleep deprivation already affects the cardiovascular system. The heart contracts more, blood pressure rises, and the pulse quickens. Furthermore, there is also a surge in cortisol levels, a well-known stress marker. Lack of sleep also plays a role in appetite and promotes weight gain, obesity, and diabetes.
By affecting certain parts of the brain, sleep deprivation leads to irritability, anxiety, mood disorders, and even depression. According to a team of American researchers, sleep deprivation may even create a conducive environment for Alzheimer's disease by increasing the production of beta-amyloid peptides in the brain. Indeed, beta-amyloid peptide levels are higher during wakefulness and decrease during sleep, especially during the deep sleep phase. One of the characteristics of Alzheimer's disease is the presence of amyloid plaques in the brain, formed by an accumulation of beta-amyloid peptides produced by neurons.
Some disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea can significantly alter the quality and duration of sleep. It is imperative to treat them to ensure good health and daily living. In any case, if you have difficulty getting peaceful and restorative nights, a short nap is still recommended.
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