To recover well after a hard day of work, it is recommended to sleep for at least seven hours a night. The British are a bit less sleepy since, in 2017, they spent an average of 6 hours and 42 minutes per night in the arms of Morpheus. Sleep is essential for the brain; however, some people are able to sleep for only four to six hours a night. Heart disease, mood disorders... They seem immune to the harmful consequences of this lack of sleep. So what is the reason for this resistance? Scientists have just provided some new answers.
Since 2009, the Professor of Neurology at the University of California in the US Ying-Hu Fu has been studying these ‘little sleepers.’ With her team, she had already established that the latter had genetic mutations, on the ADRB1 and DEC2 receptors more precisely. On Wednesday, October 16th, researchers announced the discovery of a new mutation in the Science Translational Medicine journal.
After sequencing the DNA of two-night owls, a father and son, the Californian team found that they shared the same mutation on a receptor called NPSR1. When the gene is not mutated, it plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, but also that of anxiety, learning, memory, and immunity.
A complex process
To test this theory, mice have been modified to have the same mutation of the NPSR1 receptor. It was found that genetically revised rodents slept less and were more active than those in the control group. Yet they passed memory tests just as well and had no adverse effects.
We know that sleep is important for learning and memory, but the mechanism of this connection is not very clear.
Ying-Hu Fu told the Reverse website. So far, scientists have discovered only one small element of a very complex process, that of regulating sleep. Many different genes, proteins and pathways work together to make our body's ‘Sandman’ work.
Researchers will now continue studying these ‘little sleepers.’ Understanding how these people are more effective in dealing with sleep deprivation should help to find solutions in the future so that everyone could one day be more effective.