Soon we may sleep only four hours a night

Lianzi Fields
Monday, November 28, 2011
Image: Thinkstock

Not enough hours in the day to get everything done? That could all change with a new discovery by scientists in Europe who have uncovered the gene that allows people to get by on just four hours of sleep a night.

The Europe-wide study analysed the sleeping habits of 4,000 people in a survey spanning seven different EU countries. They then evaluated the participants' genes and compared them to their answers.

From the results, researchers determined it was the gene called ABCC9 (previously linked to heart disease and diabetes in other studies) that controls our sleeping patterns and natural body-clock rhythms.

This could help explain the internal workings of some people like ex-British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who once famously declared that she could function on only four hours of sleep every night.

The study found that participants possessing two copies of a common variant of the ABCC9 gene were able to live on "significantly shorter" amounts of sleep, as opposed to those who had two copies of a different variant of the same gene.

Author of the study, Dr Karla Allebrandt, and her research team from the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, was able to identify the presence of the ABCC9 gene in fruitflies, and then modified the gene to manipulate its sleeping.

"Fruitflies also exhibit sleep-like behaviour. When we blocked the function of the ABCC9 homolog in the fly nervous system, the duration of nocturnal sleep was shortened, she said.

Co-Author of the study, Professor Till Roenneberg, offered the possibility that preliminary studies of the ABCC9 in fruitflies could later be similarly conducted in other animals saying:

“This tells us that the genetic control of sleep duration may well be based on similar mechanisms in a wide range of highly diverse species.”

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