A new study published in the October issue of Neurology examines differing sleep patterns and the correlating individual responses. By studying people who have a gene variant connected to narcolepsy, the article concludes that the ability of some to function at a higher level with less sleep than others may be a genetic in nature.
Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, sometimes causing individuals to fall asleep at inappropriate times (like work or at school). Often confused with insomnia, narcoleptics usually experience disturbed nocturnal sleep and an abnormal daytime sleep pattern. The distinguishing characteristic of the narcoleptic is that he or she generally experiences the REM stage of sleep within 10 minutes, whereas most people do not experience REM sleep until after 90 minutes.
Having the gene variant, called DQB1*0602, does not necessarily mean that an individual will develop narcolepsy. Although less common, people without this gene variant may still become narcoleptic. The study included 92 healthy adults without the gene variant and 37 healthy adults with it (but who did not have any sleep disorders). In a controlled sleep environment, the individuals spent 10 hours in bed the first two nights, followed by five nights of partial sleep deprivation (four hours in bed per night).
Overall, participants with the DQB1*0602 gene variant were sleepier and more fatigued irrespective of sleep patterns. The same individuals also spent less time in deep sleep throughout the entire study. According to lead study author Namni Goel, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia: “This gene may be a biomarker for predicting how people will respond to sleep deprivation, which has significant health consequences and affects millions of people around the world. It may be particularly important to those who work on the night shift, travel frequently across multiple time zones, or just lose sleep due to their multiple work and family obligations. However, more research and replication of our findings are needed.”[audio:http://hospitalstay.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/04-Sleep2.mp3|titles=Sleep]