Genes of 'elite sleepers' may protect them from brain diseases, study finds

Some people are genetically predisposed to getting a better night's sleep, drawing more rest from less time in bed and having more energy than others, a study shows. Photo by Olichel/Pixabay
Some people are genetically predisposed to getting a better night's sleep, drawing more rest from less time in bed and having more energy than others, a study shows. Photo by Olichel/Pixabay

March 15 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco have identified genes that help some people are get a better night's sleep, even in less time, and these genes may protect them from brain diseases, including dementia, they said in a study published Tuesday by the journal iScience.

In experiments conducted in mice, "elite sleepers" appear to have increased psychological resilience and resistance to neurodegenerative conditions, the researchers said.


The findings could provide clues toward ways for preventing neurological diseases that range from Alzheimer's to Parkinson's, they said.

"There's a dogma in the field that everyone needs eight hours of sleep, but our work to date confirms that the amount of sleep people need differs based on genetics," study co-author Dr. Louis Ptacek said in a press release.

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"Think of it as analogous to height -- there's no perfect amount of height, each person is different [and] we've shown that the case is similar for sleep," said Ptacek, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco.


Some people have what is called Familial Natural Short Sleep, or the ability to function fully on, and prefer, four to six hours of sleep a night, according to Ptacek and his colleagues.

In people with Familial Natural Short Sleep, the brain accomplishes its sleep tasks in less time, meaning less time spent efficiently sleeping may not equate to a lack of sleep, the researchers said.

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Over more than a decade of research, they have shown that this tendency runs in families, and they have identified five genes that help those with it have more efficient sleep, they said.

Previous research has linked poor sleep quality -- or less restful, sound sleep -- with an increased risk for dementia, perhaps due to levels of a protein that appear to fluctuate with the sleep-wake cycle.

"Sleep problems are common in all diseases of the brain," study co-author Ying-Hui Fu said in the press release.

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"This makes sense because sleep is a complex activity [and] many parts of your brain have to work together for you to fall asleep and to wake up," said Fu, a professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.

For this study, the researchers conducted experiments in mice who had the mouse equivalent of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, or declining brain function, in humans.


The researchers bred mice that had both short-sleep genes and genes that predisposed them to Alzheimer's and found that their brains developed fewer dementia symptoms than mice who had a genetic risk for the disease alone.

They repeated the experiment using mice with a different short-sleep gene and another dementia gene and saw similar results, they said.

The researchers believe that similar studies with other brain conditions would show the efficient-sleep genes providing similar protection, suggesting that improving peoples' sleep could delay progression of a number of diseases.

In addition, understanding the biological underpinnings of sleep regulation could help identify drugs that will help ward off problems with sleep disorders, the researchers said.

"This work opens the door to a new understanding of how to delay and possibly prevent a lot of diseases," Fu aid.

"Our goal really is to help everyone live healthier and longer through getting optimum sleep," she said.

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