A gene for a short night’s sleep

Genetic variation reduces amount of shut-eye in some people and in experiments on mice and fruit flies

3:10pm, August 13, 2009

Some people have an excuse for getting only six hours of shut-eye each night. One of their genes makes them do it.

Two people who both sleep about six hours and 15 minutes per night have a rare variation of a gene called DEC2. The variation appears to reduce the need for sleep in the two family members in the study and in laboratory mice and fruit flies, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues report August 14 in Science.

People naturally differ in the amount of sleep they need. Scientists already knew that about half the variation in sleep duration is accounted for by genes, says Mehdi Tafti, a geneticist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. But the new study is the first to identify a particular gene that controls the amount of sleep in people.

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