Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Scientists Search for the Best Sleepers

Working to unravel the secrets of sleep, gene by gene

By Sumathi Reddy, WSJ
June 9, 2014 6:59 p.m. ET

In a lab at the University of California, San Francisco, a husband-and-wife team is working to unravel the secrets of sleep, gene by gene.

Louis Ptáček is studying why some people are genetically wired to be morning larks—an estimated 3% of the population who go to bed unusually early and rise early—while others are night owls.

His wife, Ying-Hui Fu, is researching another phenomenon: why some people require unusually short amounts of sleep, a group that is estimated to be less than 1% of the population. These hardy few, called short-sleepers, can biologically get by with less than six hours of sleep a night and feel fully refreshed.

Dr. Ptáček hopes soon to begin testing for drugs that could alter the body's circadian rhythms—the internal clocks that influence virtually all our biological workings, from sleeping and eating to cardiovascular function. Such a drug might be useful to treat jet lag, for instance, or to enhance the curative powers of cancer treatments.

And Dr. Fu's goal is to someday develop a drug therapy that can reduce how much sleep we need. "The natural, short-sleeper—these people are very optimistic, very energetic, they are go-getters," said Dr. Fu, "If we can identify the pathways that can regulate our sleep duration then maybe someday we can come up with something better than caffeine."

(More here.)

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