A new international study will look into a genetic mutation that could explain why some people can sleep fewer than the recommended eight hours without feeling the effects of sleep deprivation.
Allan Pack, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, is working on the study with locations in the United Kingdom, South Korea, and China to recruit up to a million participants and sequence the CLOCK genes, genes involved in regulating circadian rhythms. He has observed that a certain genetic mutation allows carriers to sleep less and maintain standard cognitive function.
Pack’s initial research, which studied subjects who were kept awake for 38 hours and then tested for cognitive effects, showed that 80 percent of the variation in subjects’ cognitive function after sleep deprivation had a genetics-related explanation.
After another study done at the University of California, San Francisco found a mutation in a mother and daughter who cognitively performed well even after getting only six hours of sleep, the mutation was placed in mice genomes for further analysis. The mice with the mutation slept less than the others and also showed consistent and normal function.
“Identifying these genetic variants tells us something about the very specific biology of what affects sleep need,” Pack told The New Yorker. “The texts, the e-mails, all those things we now do at night instead of sleeping uninterrupted — most of us are significantly impaired as a result. It’s only getting worse. We need help.”