Researchers have found a single gene (appropriately named insomniac) that plays a key role in helping us stay asleep.
Researchers at Rockefeller University genetically screened 21,000 fruit flies. They found that mutations in the insomniac gene were associated with a dramatic reduction in sleep.
On average, a typical fruit fly sleeps for 927 minutes each day. This study found that, on average, fruit flies with a mutation in the insomniac gene slept for only 317 minutes per day.
The 'mutant' flies also slept for shorter periods of time and slept and woke more frequently. The lifespan of these flies was also a third less than those of the unaltered flies.
The good news is that researchers were able to eliminate the insomniac gene in the neurons of the flies (allowing it to remain in the rest of their bodies). When they did this, the lifetime disparity was eliminated - although the flies still slept poorly.
Apparently, it's thought that the mechanisms of sleep and wakefulness are similar in humans and flies. In the future, hopefully we'll be able to influence our sleep genes in a way that will help us sleep and reduce the consequences of sleep deprivation - and we'll have the common fruit fly to thank!
Source: Rockefeller University
Last updated: February 15, 2013