Healthy Living

Is Insomnia Genetic?

Is Insomnia Genetic?

Key Takeaways

  • Insomnia can result from a genetic predisposition to a sleeping disorder.
  • It requires a professional medical diagnosis, but can be managed with therapy and treatment.

The Genetics of Insomnia

One's DNA is not only responsible for their eye and hair color, but can also contribute to health hazards and medical issues, like insomnia. According to several studies, the often weakening and detrimental sleep disorder insomnia can be genetic and hereditary. Scientists believe that some peoples' genes can increase their stress-reactivity and whether they're prone to mental illness. This lends credence to the belief that mental illness can decrease sleep productivity and develop insomnia.

There are a number of conditions responsible for the development of insomnia. Initially, insomnia was thought to be a purely psychological issue, caused by grief, stress, overworking, sleep disruption, and jetlag, among other things. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, contemporary psychological and scientific findings indicate that insomnia could be caused due to hereditary factors and genes. Researchers are inclined to believe that there is a substantial link between genetics and insomnia, although more evidence and proof is required to establish the exact connection between the two. It has already been established that genetics may play a role in the brain's response to stress, although it is not yet understood clearly just how capable stress is of molding the brain and its effect on behavior and anxiety. Uptightness, a nervous disposition, a tendency to hyperarousal, one's body type, and one's metabolism are just some of the factors that are related to insomnia, all of which comprise a genetic constituent. 

Some people have genes that scientists and researchers say are responsible for their increased stress activity. The normal activities and functioning of your genes can be disrupted by a low quality and quantity of sleep. Poor sleep can interrupt the normal function of your genes, leaving many people stuck in a vcious, sleep-deprived circle. Terry Cralle - a renowned American sleep consultant, educator, and director of The Sleep Evaluation Center in Texas - has estimated that six or more distinct types of insomnia have direct linkage to genes. She has stated that 711 different genes have their functions disrupted as a result of one week of poor sleep. Cralle also cited that “Genes are involved with how much sleep you need, and it is estimated that there could be six or more different types of insomnia linked to genes.” Similarly, some studies conducted report that 40 per cent of the population is affected by insomnia at one point by the age of 60; the problem often runs in families, making a genetic link extremely likely for this disorder.

This, in turn, throws your circadian rhythm off-balance. The circadian rhythm is important as it signifies the right time for your body to sleep, in addition to its metabolism, immune responses, etc. Protein formation instructions in the body are carried by genes. Upon formation, these proteins create hormones and signals responsible for the body's regulation and numerous other processes - sleep included. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, the body requires a large amount of care. One of the most crucial forms of care is a balanced diet with a healthy, regulated sleeping pattern. Therefore, nsomnia acts as a barrier to a healthy lifestyle. It not only has side effects, but repercussions that may not be immediately noticeable, but can adversely affect one during a later stage of life. 

In a particular study published in The Sleep Journal, a group of researchers, determined to find out the correlation between genetics and insomnia, carried out a study involving twins. The twins answered sets of questions posed by the researchers. The result of the survey indicated a 25 percent chance of getting insomnia by inheritance of genes. It also demonstrated that insomnia symptoms tend to develop more commonly in woman than in men. This was first attributed to the fact that women are more susceptible to anxiety, hormonal imbalances, depression, and stress. Fatal familial insomnia is a genetic illness with a very low incidence, but is very hazardous to those affected. Severe insomnia develops when those affected are in their 30s, after which the brain starts to deteriorate. Although insomnia may often be cured and vanish on its own, for some individuals it may increase sensitivity to pain and increase their risk of self harm. Insomnia can also lead to depression and cause severe effects to the body if it persists. Thus, it is a serious issue that needs to be recognized and treated like any other medical issue. Methods of treatment including practicing meditation or yoga an hour before bed, which may help those predisposed to insomnia overcome their gene's stress response and help promote sleep.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To determine your odds to a predisposition for insomnia, it’s very important that you talk to family members about the issue, to see whether the problem may be genetic. This will supply with the information needed to determine your chances of developing insomnia. If you happen to have family members with chronic sleep problems, it's a good idea to ask them what methods of treatment they use to help themselves sleep better, since odds are they will work for you too. It is also a good idea to talk to a therapist; talking to multiple people about your insomnia will give you a number of viewpoints and ideas on how to treat your illness. Assuredly, when you talk to another person about a problem or issue, you not only indirectly relax your mind by freeing it from the burden, but also open it to receive positive vibes in the form of solutions. This sharing is itself is a form of medication.

Genetic testing is also crucial in determining the link between your genetics and insomnia. To do this, one needs to consult their family physician and inquire about the effect of genes on sleep, sleep hygiene, diet and stress considerations. Preferably an hour before bedtime, meditation and yoga practice can significantly assist in combating gene-stress response to those with a predisposition to insomnia and result in better sleep at night. What you must always bear in mind is that if you opt to indulge in exercising before sleep, you must maintain a time gap of two to three hours along with a balanced diet and less vigorous workout sessions. You need to tire your body, not render it completely exhausted. In some ways, insomnia can be considered a learned condition, particularly in consideration to other factors with a high potential for inheritance. This is the reason as to why guidelines such as those found in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been identified to be efficient in combating insomnia. Professor Colin Espie, who lectures on sleep medicine at Glasgow University, considers CBT to be the only effective therapy for successful elimination of genetic insomnia effects. It works by assisting affected individuals understand and ignore the ever present and racing thoughts causing them to be unable to sleep. Even the recent National Institute of Health state-of-the science meeting on insomnia concluded that CBT-I is a safe and effective means of managing chronic insomnia and its effects.