Trouble sleeping?: ‘Sleep genes’ discovery could help

22 Jun 2015

A team of researchers has made a discovery in the animal kingdom regarding ‘sleep genes’, which could help us understand how to get a better night’s sleep.

The research was undertaken by a team from Jefferson University in the US that wanted to better understand why the amount of sleep needed each night for human beings can vary depending on the person.

Based off our current understanding, the average person needs between seven and eight hours sleep each night to function properly the next day, but an as-yet not fully understood genetic answer lies behind why some of us don’t need that much sleep.

According to the team’s paper published in Current Biology, analysis of flies showed that two types of cell division are required for sleep, those being, taranis and Cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1).

However, in mutant flies that required a lot less sleep than regular flies, it was found that these flies’ taranis process bonded with a protein called Cycilin A, which inhibited the effects of Cdk1, reducing their need for sleep.

This actually becomes relevant for humans as the part of a fly’s brain that controls sleep bears similarities to the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls sleep in humans.

Senior researcher in the project, Dr Kyunghee Koh, said that she and her team will now investigate whether it can be replicated with taranis’ human cousin, Trip-Br, and whether the same findings could be made clear.

“There’s a lot we don’t understand about sleep, especially when it comes to the protein machinery that initiates the process on the cellular level,” Koh said. “Our research elucidates a new molecular pathway and a novel brain area that play a role in controlling how long we sleep.”

Sleeping woman image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic