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Uncracking the role DNA plays in sleep

By Aaron Ye
BU News Service

From left to right, Mehmet Oz, TV personality and professor at Columbia University, Roy Raymann, vice president of SleepScore Labs, Sara Riordan, co-founder of Exploragen and Todd Clebver, professional rugby player, discsuss the how sleep cycle affects daily performance, Jan 8, 2019. (Aaron Ye/ BU News Service)

LAS VEGAS – Are you a good sleeper? How many hours do you sleep per night? Does DNA impact sleep?

A group of experts took a deep dive into questions about sleep data, DNA and sleep technology at a session at CES on Tuesday, Jan. 8.

A surgeon, two science researchers and an athlete discussed how our sleeping behaviorcorrelates with the human genome and how we can utilize environmental big data to manage our health better.

Scientists have discovered that DNA circadian genes determine our sleep behavior. 

Roy Raymann, vice president of SleepScore Labs, disccusses a research in insomnia involving 1.3 million people to reveal some disorders that are caused by sleep at CES, Jan 8, 2019. Photo by Aaron Ye/BU News Service.

“It’s like the wheels of a mechanical clock,” said Roy Raymann, vice president of SleepScore Labs, a research center that focuses on sleep. “That kind of determines whether you are a short or a long sleeper.”

The human biological clock runs a little longer than 24 hours. The clock also varies in different age groups and resets every day, according to researchers. This causes the younger generation to want to stay up late because their clock resets later in the night time. 

“Our society is designed for nine to five people,” said Raymann. “And I think we should get a little bit more open-minded so that you can actually live the life and give your performance as dictated by your biological clock.”

Scientific research has shown that sleep can also be correlated with illnesses, as well as weight gain.

Mehmet Oz, better known as “Dr. Oz” from his popular TV show, hosts a panel of experts discussing how DNA affects human behavior including sleep (Aaron Ye/BU News Service).

Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr. Oz from his popular TV show and a professor of surgery at Columbia University, said that as a heart doctor he had to learn a lot about illnesses and their relationship to sleep. “I never felt like cancers were correlated to sleep.”

Scientists have been using DNA, alongside sleep patterns to pin down when a patient’s body is going to process medication the most efficiently; therefore, they decide the right time for treatment and apply the dosage to the patient.

The utilization of sleep pattern has also been adopted in athletic training. Studies have found that some athletes train better in the morning versus in the late hours.

Sara Riordan, co-founder of Exploragen, talks about how scientists can utilize big data collected from DNA and sleep patterns to boost people’s daily performance. (Aaron Ye/BU News Service)

“There is a lot of potential for DNA to affect the way athletes train, understanding caffeine metabolism and when your athletic performance is going to be maximized,” said Sara Riordan, co-founder of Exploragen, a company that produces applications aimed helping consumers better understand how their DNA affects their lives.

By examining the relationships between genes, sleep cycles and metabolism, scientists can examine how caffeine affects individuals.

“When you combine all these things together, you can get quite a spectrum of people who can drink large amounts of caffeine at night and go to sleep just be fine,” said Riordan. 

Whether impacted by coffee or not, many people have trouble sleeping which may cause a host of problems.

A study on insomnia involving 1.3 million participants last year found 956 genes linked to the sleep disorder. Scientists are looking for hereditary factors related to insomnia and a connection to depression and anxiety disorders.

“If you look to the diagnostic manual for mental disorders, you see that a key factor of a lot of mental disorders is sleep disturbances,” said Raymann. “But we never know whether the sleep disturbance is just a sickness or disorder itself.”

“I always say genes are not out destiny. And there’s a lot of other lifestyle and environmental factors that come into play,” said Riordan. “But yes, genetics absolutely has a role in behavior.”

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