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More Genetic Variants Linked to Sleep Behavior

April 09, 2019

By Will Boggs MD

NEW YORK—Nearly four dozen genetic variants appear to be related to sleep quality, quantity, and timing, according to a new genetic study of accelerometer-based sleep measures.

"The aim of this study was to better understand the molecular processes of sleep regulation so that we can understand the genes and pathways that will lead to improved therapies in the future," Dr. Michael N. Weedon from College of Medicine and Health, University of Exeter, UK, told Reuters Health by email.

Dr. Weedon and colleagues sought to identify genetic variants associated with sleep and rest-activity patterns using data derived from more than 85,000 U.K. Biobank participants who wore activity monitors continuously for up to seven days.

They identified 47 genetic variants associated with seven sleep traits: sleep duration, sleep efficiency, the number of sleep episodes, diurnal inactivity, sleep midpoint, timing of the least-active five hours and timing of the most-active 10 hours.

Thirty-one of these 47 associations were not previously reported, the team writes in Nature Communications, online April 5.

Twenty-six associations related to sleep quality (including 21 variants associated with number of nocturnal sleep episodes and five associated with sleep efficiency), and eight genetic associations related to sleep and activity timing.

Most variants were associated with either sleep quality, duration, or timing, but not combinations of these sleep characteristics. Twenty variants were associated with restless legs syndrome, and these variants showed a clear positive association of restless legs syndrome with all sleep traits.

One missense variant at the PDE11A locus was associated with shorter sleep duration and less efficient sleep.

"There have been some previous studies suggesting that the product of this gene could be a good target for neuropsychiatric therapies," Dr. Weedon said. "But that's a long-term goal."

Many variants associated with the number of nocturnal sleep episodes were involved in serotonin pathways.

In separate phenotypic analyses, higher waist-hip ratio was associated with shorter sleep duration and lower sleep efficiency. "So people should lose weight if they want to sleep better," Dr. Weedon suggested.

"Our data provide strong evidence that some accelerometer-derived measures of sleep provide higher precision than self-report measures, while for others there is little gain through accelerometer-derived measurement with questionnaire data being just as effective," the researchers note.


Nature Communications 2019.

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