Scientists find a gene that may influence short sleep times


Do you feel fine after just a few hours of sleep each night? There’s a gene for that.

German scientists have found a gene variant that may be responsible for some people’s short sleeping habits. Their study, published recently in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, centers on a very small percentage of the population thought to be short or light sleepers, people who require only about four to five hours of sleep a night, wake up with energy and don’t require naps or caffeine to get through the day.

Data was examined on 4,251 people of European ancestry who were part of seven genome-wide association studies. CTV News reports that researchers found that those who had two copies of a variant of the ABCC9 gene slept for short amounts of time, briefer than those who had two copies of another form of the gene. That same gene has also been associated with heart disease and diabetes.

Many people who think they can get by on a few hours of sleep with no ill effects are often deluding themselves, keeping drowsiness at bay by slugging down copious amounts of coffee or energy drinks.


Symptoms of sleep deprivation include memory and cognition problems, irritability, stress and decreased functioning. Too little sleep puts people at risk for more car accidents, and it’s also been linked in studies to a higher risk of heart disease and obesity.

The University of Utah’s Health Care Sleep-Wake Center has information on sleep disorders, including a list of common symptoms of a sleep disorder and a calculator to score your sleepiness level (ours was 6 -- the site suggests that anything 10 or higher might require a chat with a healthcare provider).

Although most people may need eight hours of sleep a night, we may not be getting it. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep In America Poll, 43% of people in the U.S. age 13 to 64 reported they rarely or never can get a good night’s sleep Monday through Friday. And 60% of those surveyed said they had a sleep problem every night or almost every night, which could include snoring, waking up during the night or having a lack of energy when they get up.