Do you have difficulty falling asleep or frequently wake up in the middle of the night? Have you started snoring or realized that you have been facing sleep troubles a lot lately? And, do you see your close family members showing almost similar symptoms as you and find it weird? Have you ever thought that Maybe sleep issues are in your genetics? Have you ever considered that it may not be your old mattress that is keeping you awake at night but rather your genes?
Genes have always played a vital role in our whole being, from looks to behavior, and sleep issues are not far from it. Just like everything else, scientists have studied the relationship between our genetics and sleep issues.
This article is about whether genetics affect sleep and whether sleep disorders run in families.
How does genetics work, and how is it connected with sleep issues?
Genetics is basically studying your genes. Genes are small sections of our DNA that we can find inside every living being’s cells. Genes carry the information that is passed down from parent to kid through chromosomes. The reason why children receive characteristics from their parents or ancestors, such as hair, eyes, facial features, and so forth, is because of these genes.
According to research, genetic factors play a substantial role in both healthy sleep patterns and various sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and obstructive sleep apnea.
Is there a sleep gene?
According to further research conducted on monozygotic and dizygotic twins, scientists have not found any single sleep gene. Researchers claim that sleep controls and influences multiple yet unknown genes. Sleep is a complicated phenotype that includes a repeated cognitive and behavioral state, unprecedented Electrophysiological changes, timing over the round-the-clock, and reactions to depletion.
Are sleep issues genetic?
Yes and no. According to researchers, several sleep issues have been found in genetic bases along with regular sleep and circadian rhythm amongst animals and humans. Although, research on sleep and related issues is developing quickly, which will lead to greater understanding in each field.
Another research suggests that though sleep issues have a genetic base, they are highly related to environmental triggers.
For instance, some people are more prone than others to encounter certain contextual situations, like job stress, in part due to hereditary factors. Our genes also have a role in determining how sensitive to these experiences they will be, including whether or not they will keep us awake at night. Our genes don’t really alter, but rather how they affect us, whether they are “turned on or off and up or down” like a switch, can be controlled by our environment. This phenomenon is known as epigenetics, which means “above genetics,” and is another example of how genetic and environmental factors interact.
Other factors that influence your genes are physiological and psychological. For example, some people develop a habit of drinking alcohol before going to bed. The pattern becomes so subtle that they don’t even realize that it’s affecting their sleep cycle and causing sleep issues.
Which sleep disorders are you likely to get because of genetics?
Several well-established research on twin and family sleep disorders suggests genetics may have a role in developing sleep disorders in generations. There are now a few sleep disorders with known genetic causes. These include
- narcolepsy with cataplexy,
- familial advanced sleep-phase disease,
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Circadian rhythm disorders
Let’s take a brief look at the relationship between these sleep disorders and genes:
Is insomnia genetic?
Yes, according to research, insomnia may be hereditarily prone. Your genes, however, do not predispose you to develop insomnia. Instead, a few genes might make you more vulnerable. There is clear genetic evidence for both chronic primary insomnia and fatal family insomnia.
Furthermore, little sleep interferes with your genes’ ability to operate normally, thus complicating the situation.
The most prevalent sleep condition, insomnia, affects 6 to 10% of individuals and can have catastrophic consequences for a patient. Frequently, the problem might go untreated, which can have serious repercussions.
Even if you have a genetic tendency to insomnia, you can still get therapy, and the procedure is the same whether you do or not.
Is narcolepsy genetic?
The majority of narcolepsy occurrences are spontaneous, meaning they affect persons with no family history of the condition. However, recent research has discovered compelling evidence that narcolepsy has an autoimmune pathophysiology.
A tiny proportion of all symptoms have been said to run in families; however, there is no distinct inheritance pattern for the illness. The chance of acquiring the disorder is 40 times higher in first-degree relatives such as parents, siblings, and kids of those with narcolepsy with cataplexy than in the general population.
According to research, it could be autosomal recessive or genetically heterogeneous, meaning that each parent passes one mutant gene copy to the kid. However, narcolepsy may not be present in the parents of a kid with an autosomal recessive condition.
Is restless leg syndrome genetic?
RLS, commonly referred to as Ekbom syndrome, is a common movement condition with neurological symptoms that manifest during peaceful awake and sleep. RLS has an unclear underlying origin; however, genetic factors are heavily involved in its prognosis, especially when it first appears in children. More than 80 percent of infected people mention having at least one first-degree relative with a similar condition, such as a parent or sibling, and many families have many affected family members. The condition frequently runs in families. According to studies, the disorder’s early-onset type is more likely than its late-onset version to run in families.
RLS, or Restless legs syndrome, appears to have an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern in certain afflicted families. According to autosomal dominant inheritance, one copy of a mutated gene in each cell is enough to induce the illness. However, no genetic alterations related to restless legs syndrome are found in these families.
Is sleep apnea genetic?
Sleep apnea is a condition where you have episodes of stopped breathing during your sleep. Central and obstructive sleep apnea are mainly two types of sleep apnea.
The obstructive sleep apnea inheritance pattern is unknown. Overall, first-degree relatives (such as siblings or children of afflicted persons have a 50% higher chance of having this ailment than the general public.
According to research, obstructive sleep apnea is around 40% heritable. The more relatives you have who have obstructive sleep apnea, the more likely you will get the disorder. Scientists have yet to identify the particular genes that cause obstructive sleep apnea.
Except for cardiac problems, which may have a genetic basis, central sleep apnea has a more than minimal inheritance pattern.
Is circadian rhythm disorder genetic?
The light transmission from the retina to the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus regulates the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm was one of the first sleep qualities discovered in human and animal models that were controlled by genetic factors. Changes in the circadian sleep-wake cycle duration have a link to gene mutations.
Clock genes play a central role in generating and regulating human circadian rhythms. It has been hypothesized that this genetic system could be involved in the well-known biorhythm dysfunctions of mood disorders and that genetic variants in these genes could be associated with circadian and seasonal mood changes and associated symptoms.
Is familial advanced sleep-phase disease genetic?
Familial advanced sleep phase syndrome is an autosomal dominant illness. Researchers have found a mutation in one of the human genes. People with a Familial accelerated sleep phase have an increased desire to sleep occurrence and wakefulness sooner than they would want.
Another familial disorder, a delayed sleep phase disorder, is a kind of insomnia in which a person’s sleep is prolonged by a few hours or more beyond what would be considered an appropriate sleep time. In a recent study, researchers indicated how a mutated gene could alter the rhythm of a person’s biological clock.
Are genetic sleep issues harmful?
Yes, based on the severity, genetic sleep disorders can be harmful. However, many studies show that genetic disorders usually require other environmental, physiological, or psychological triggers to get them into action.
Can it lead to other problems?
Sleep disorders, whether they are genetic or not, are always interlinked with other health issues. Such as insomnia might cause heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and several other health problems. Sleep disorders can also affect memory, emotions, cognitive activities, and concentration.
How to diagnose sleep disorders?
Whether your sleep disorder is recent or developed due to gene mutations, there are specific ways that you can diagnose it.
Some of the symptoms can help you self-diagnose sleep disorders, such as:
- Failure to sleep for a long time
- Frequent midnight sleep disturbances
- Snoring, gagging, or stopping breathing during sleep
- Mood swings or difficulty controlling emotions
- Tiredness, fatigue, headaches,
- Slower reflexes and inability to recall memories
- Impaired performance quality at work or school
- Excessive napping sessions during the day
Also, you can refer to specialists who may also advise you to keep a sleep diary and do a home inspection to understand more about your problems. The data collected during the sleep research includes visual stimuli, brain wave alterations, respiratory rate, blood pressure, pulse rate, and other limb movements.
The test that is done to determine sleep disorders are:
Actigraphy: This test observes and evaluates your sleep patterns and regular motor performance over a duration of days or weeks by using portable monitoring devices.
Polysomnography, or PSG: It is a laboratory sleep study that looks at oxygen content, eye and body gestures, and brain waves to evaluate how these affect sleep.
Multiple Sleep Latency Testing (MSLT): This sleep research aims to determine how fast an individual goes to sleep during the day when they should be awake.
Titration Study: A CPAP Titration study determines your appropriate air pressure setting while sleeping by assessing continuous positive airway pressure equipment.
What are the solutions?
Are genetically influenced sleep disorders untreatable? The answer is yes. According to behavioral genetics research, just because our genes impact something does not indicate that altering the environment cannot be the solution. Medication, therapy, changes in temperature, modifying sleep patterns, and other treatments are helpful in addressing sleep problems.
How to improve sleep quality?
If you are already diagnosed with a sleep disorder. In that case, doctors might suggest medicines such as sleeping pills, melatonin tablets, and therapies to cure core illnesses that trigger sleep issues.
However, according to an old saying that “precaution is better than cure,” it’s always better to start working to improve your sleep quality rather than waiting for your genes to trigger sleep issues and you become an unfortunate victim of sleep disorders.
So here are some tips to improve sleep quality by changing your lifestyle and surroundings.
Tips for Better Sleep
Maintain sleep-wake schedule
Create a sleep-wake regime for yourself and follow it even on weekends and holidays. Avoid breaking it for better sleep quality. Take help from external things like an alarm clock, pre-bed routine, and exercises to establish a sleep schedule. Generally, if you follow any rules for 21 days, it becomes a habit and regular follow-up for 90 days makes it a lifestyle. Take advantage of it and make changes.
Avoid resting throughout the day to avoid staying up all night, especially after dinner. However, if you must nap for whatever reason, limit yourself to up to two or three naps before evening. According to research, the ideal nap time is between 20 to 30 minutes.
Limit blue light exposure
All electronic gadgets emit blue light radiations, which are harmful to the retina. Also, our circadian rhythm gets confused due to over exposure to blue light and reduces the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Therefore, ensure to avoid the usage of any gadgets like mobile, laptops, and television before 1 to 2 hours of bedtime to be able to sleep quickly and peacefully.
Eat more nutritious food
Eat nutritional food such as dairy products, poultry, nuts, and fruits that have melatonin, magnesium, serotonin, calcium, iron, and other nutrients that are responsible for improving sleep quality.
A glass of warm milk, almonds, cherry, and fatty fish are the best examples of nutritional foods full of sleep-inducing nutrition.
Follow good eating habits
Eating habits also matter along with eating nutritional food. Ensure to eat food in proper portions and avoid consumption of heavy meals post-evening. Heavy meals post-evening often causes acid refluxes and disrupted metabolism due to insufficient time for digestion. It results in sleep disruptions, stomach aches, and other health issues.
Avoid caffeinated products
According to research, caffeine stimulates the brain and remains in our blood for more than 6 to 9 hours. To avoid sleep issues or to stay up late at night, stop consuming caffeinated products post-afternoon. Also, it causes acidic refluxes and stomach burns if consumed too much, which apparently results in sleepless nights.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
Alcohol and drugs are more harmful than caffeine as not only do they cause brain stimulation, but they also cause health issues like heart diseases, kidney problems, anxiety, and psychological issues. Avoid drinking alcohol or drugs as much as possible and stop the addiction by visiting rehabs and specialists.
Follow pre-bed routine
A pre-bedtime regimen is just as effective as a sleep-wake schedule. Our brain follows its own rhythm based on various factors such as daylight, physical tiredness, and your activities. A pre-bedtime ritual tells your brain to prepare your body for sleep. Listening to music, reading a book, meditating, or relaxing before bedtime help you sleep better than anything else.
Do regular exercise
Exercise is necessary for a healthy lifestyle, fitness, and sound sleep. Exercising daily for 30 minutes to an hour stimulates blood circulation and boosts metabolism. It exhausts your body, leading it to transmit instructions to your brain in order for it to generate sleep-inducing hormones and sleep better in order to replenish energy.
Meditation, Yoga, Running, Walking, or Aerobics are all beneficial exercises you can try to improve your sleep quality.
Set up a sleeping environment
It is critical to create a sleep-worthy environment in your bedroom for more significant outcomes. Make sure your bedroom is solely used for sleeping and not for work, study, or other gadgets. Maintain the temperature around 16 to 18 degrees by using a fan, air conditioning, or letting the windows open. To help you sleep faster, turn out all lights, muffle all sounds, and create a relaxing environment.
Use a proper bed and mattress
Your bed is the crucial reason to make your sleep better or worse. Therefore, use an adequate bedding system that includes a bed frame, mattress, pillows, comforters, etc. You can use adjustable bed frames, which come with zero gravity mode and anti-snoring mode, that can help you prevent sleep apnea symptoms. Buy the best mattress online that is suitable for your needs, such as an orthopedic mattress for back pain or a soft luxury mattress to reduce pressure from joints if you are a side sleeper. A comforter should prevent you from the cold outside, keep you warm and cozy despite any season, and get a pillow that will support your neck and head.
So far, researchers have derived that some sleep disorders have genetic bases and might find advanced solutions and more answers in the future. But so far, genetic or not, sleep disorders are treatable with timely diagnosis, medication, and life adjustments.