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Scientists Discover Gene Mutation that May Reduce Need for Sleep

by Anna Mary Miller (2019-10-23)

There’s never enough time in the day to get everything done. What if there was a way to function properly on less sleep? Some kind of gene mutation where you can stay productive and healthy with only few hours of sleep


A neurology professor at UC San Francisco – Professor Ying-Hui Fu, PhD, discovered just such a DEC2 gene mutation in a family of naturally-short sleepers – those who go fall asleep around midnight and wake up at around 5AM. Fu continued to study the gene and performed a new study on mice that showed how this mutation in humans could help them live their best lives with just a few short hours of sleep. 


The mice in the study were engineered to have a similar DEC2 gene mutation. The scientists discovered that the gene helps control the hormone orexin, which is needed to promote wakefulness. Insomnia – the inability to get enough sleep – is caused by a lack of the sleep hormone orexin. The DEC2 mutation seems to work by fueling advanced production and release of orexin. 


The latest study suggests DEC2 can reduce alertness during the evening by preventing another gene – MyoD1 – from working properly. This gene powers up orexin production. DEC2 levels naturally fall before dawn, allowing the MyoD1 gene to produce orexin so that you naturally wake up and stay alert for the whole day. 


The gene mutation discovered by Fu works by preventing DEC2 from being able to fully stop MyoD1. This means that more orexin is produced and so naturally short sleepers have an easier time staying awake. 


This mutation in the DEC2 gene is pretty rare, but it isn’t the only mutation that works like this. There are various gene mutations which work differently but produce the same results of natural short seep cycles. Fu continues to study these genes to better understand human sleep and how it affects our health.