Sleep is essential for our body’s functioning. Research has shown not getting enough is associated with diabetes, obesity, and mental health disorders, but despite everything we know about how good sleep is for us, falling and staying asleep is not always easy. You can have the perfect nighttime routine replete with a quiet, dark bedroom, and you still can’t fall asleep. Scientists figured out, however, this may be out of our control.
While previous studies have often relied on self-reported data, the study, led by the University of Exeter, had around 90,000 people wear tracking devices (like Apple watches) that analyzed their activity for seven days. They found 47 connections between our genes and how well we sleep, how often, and at what time. Among the new genetic links found, they discovered that a variant of the gene PDE11A influences how long we sleep and how well.
“This study identifies genetic variants influencing sleep traits and will provide new insights into the molecular role of sleep in humans. It is part of an emerging body of work which could one day inform the development of new treatments to improve our sleep and our overall health,” said lead author Samuel Jones, Ph.D., of the University of Exeter Medical School in a statement.
For better or for worse, we can’t change our genes, but there are lifestyle changes we can make to support better sleep.
First off, it’s helpful to identify the things in your life that may be impeding your shut-eye. To do this, notice how different nighttime routines affect how long it takes you to get to sleep and how often you wake up during the night. Each of our bodies’ relationship to sleep is unique, as there are both internal and external influences contributing to sleep quality.
Perhaps you find when you work on your computer in bed it takes you a little longer to doze off, or maybe adding a few extra minutes to wind down with a breathing exercise or meditation practice can help you stay asleep longer. By tracking your experience you can start to figure out what works for you.
Whether you think your genes are hindering or supporting your zzz’s, it’s helpful to remember our environment plays a significant role in our health, and we can do something about that.