A team at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich has identified the gene, called ABCC9, that can reduce the length of time people sleep. The same gene has previously been linked to heart disease and diabetes.
The scientists have based their findings on a Europe-wide survey which saw nearly 4,000 people from seven countries fill out a questionnaire assessing their sleep habits.
They then analysed their answers as well as participants’ genes. The findings revealed that people who had two copies of one common variant of ABCC9 slept for “significantly shorter” periods than people with two copies of another version.
Having already established that the ABCC9 gene was also present in fruitflies, the team were able to modify it in the animal and shorten the length of time for which it slept, the ‘Daily Mail’ reported.
Lead author said: “Apparently the relationships of sleep duration with other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes can be in part explained by an underlying common molecular mechanism.
“The ABCC9 gene is evolutionarily ancient, as a similar gene is present in fruitflies. Fruitflies also exhibit sleep-like behaviour. When we blocked the function of ABCC9 homolog in the fly nervous system, the duration of nocturnal sleep was shortened.”
Added team member Professor Till Roenneberg: “It is very encouraging for us that ABCC9 also affects the nocturnal sleep period in flies. 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.”