Genes that Cause Interrupted Sleep Patterns

woman sleeping

When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? If you have to think about it for more than a couple of seconds, it’s probably been a while.

You’re not alone in your sleep problems. More than 30% of the adult population have insomnia, a number that is staggering considering the various health concerns associated with insomnia:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Weight Gain

I have seen many client’s weight loss progress negatively impacted due to poor sleep.  It impacts their behaviours by increasing their desire for high energy food which is usually sugar or simple carbs. It also impacts their hormones resulting in an increase in insulin which then blocks fat burn even when they are sticking to their food plan.

While the complications resulting from insomnia are clear, the causes of insomnia are often difficult to determine. This is because there are a variety of factors that can lead to insomnia–everything from caffeine consumption to blue light exposure.

How can you pinpoint what is disrupting your sleep at night? Your genes play a significant role in your ability to sleep. According to a recent study done by The DNA Company, 35% of people have the gene that leads to interrupted sleep patterns.

Whether or not you have that sleep disruption gene, there are several other areas in which your genes can affect your sleep quality. After all, sleep is integral to your overall health and wellness. It is easily impacted by your genetic tendencies towards harmful habits that impact your health in a variety of ways.

Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is what determines when you feel sleepy and when you feel energized. It does this by releasing melatonin (at night) and cortisol (during the day) into your system. If you’ve ever traveled to a faraway place, you’ve experienced the jet lag that results from a disruption in your circadian rhythm.

The main gene that impacts your circadian rhythm is the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene. It determines your neuroplasticity, or your brain’s ability to form new connections. If you have low or medium BDNF levels (like 35% of the population), you may have a more difficult time getting enough deep sleep. You’re also more likely to be negatively influenced by blue light exposure before bed.

There are four other genes that can influence your circadian rhythm. The CLOCK gene impacts your ability to fall asleep and your risk of mental health disorders. It has three genotypes: T/T, C/T, and C/C. The T/T genotype typically leads to normal sleep patterns, while the C/T and C/C genotypes can cause irregular sleep patterns as well as certain mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar.

Your CYP2R1 gene, VDBP/GC gene, and VDR gene all affect how much vitamin D your body absorbs and transports. Insufficient vitamin D can result in poor sleep quality, shorter sleep duration, and the inability to sleep through the night.

How Diet Affects Sleep

This might surprise you, but your diet can greatly influence your sleep quality. Have you ever had trouble falling asleep at night after eating a huge carb-heavy meal? That’s likely because your body is highly efficient at turning carbs into glucose, which becomes fuel for your body that makes you feel energized instead of sleepy.

The two genes that determine your food response are your FTO gene and your MC4R gene. The FTO gene impacts your ability to feel full and satisfied after eating. Having the suboptimal version of this gene makes you more likely to overeat because you don’t feel satisfied. This makes it harder to fall asleep.

The MC4R gene controls your hunger cue. One variation, the C allele, can cause you to develop dysregulated snacking patterns. This means you are more likely to hunt for snacks throughout the day–and even at night. It’s difficult to get the sleep you need when you’re snacking late into the night.

How Stress Affects Sleep

Stress is a natural biological response, and small amounts of it can benefit your health.  Chronic stress, on the other hand, is an epidemic that is linked to numerous health concerns. Stress can affect your sleep in different ways. Some people respond to stress with extreme exhaustion, and they sleep more than normal. Others experience difficulty sleeping due to excessive stress. 

The two genes that most affect your stress response are COMT and ADRA2B. Your COMT gene determines how fast your body can clear important neurotransmitters like dopamine and noradrenaline. If you have a slow COMT gene, you are more likely to stay stressed for a longer period of time. This stress can interfere with your sleep.

Your ADRA2B gene controls your noradrenaline receptor. If you have a partial or full deletion in this gene, your receptor will stay on for a longer period of time, which keeps you in a heightened emotional state of stress and anxiety. Of course, this can make you lie awake at night with your mind spinning.

Your Pleasure Response

Pleasure is a good thing, right? Yes…until your desire for pleasure gets in the way of other important things like your sleep quality and mental health. After all, scrolling late into the night often comes from a desire for pleasure.

There are two main pleasure responses that you can be genetically predisposed to: binging and thrill-seeking. Both of them can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.

The Binge Gene

Do you binge on things you love doing? Whether it’s eating, playing video games, or streaming new shows, your tendency to binge could be caused by your genes. Binging happens when you continue doing an activity because you’re addicted to the amazing feeling you get from it.

Being prone to binging is associated with having slower COMT and MAO genes. The COMT and MAO genes break down dopamine. With slower COMT and MAO genes, you can enjoy the aftereffects of dopamine longer.

The DRD2 gene affects the density of dopamine receptors in your cells. That means if you have a DRD2 gene that causes a higher density of dopamine, you are more likely to experience a more intense pleasure response, which leads to binging. Of course, this can keep you up at night and disrupt your sleep patterns. 

The Thrill-Seeking Gene

Are you the daredevil type who loves things like bungee jumping and skydiving? This could be because you are genetically predisposed to require thrills in order to achieve pleasure. You’re always looking for something bigger and more exciting to give you the incredible feeling you’re chasing.

Thrill-seekers like you typically have faster COMT and MAO genes. Because your dopamine breaks down more quickly, you require novel thrills to keep your interest up. Perhaps you seek these thrills late into the night, unable to sleep until you get the pleasure you’re searching for.

Your DRD2 gene tends to be associated with a lower density of dopamine receptors. This means you require more extreme versions of pleasure in order to get the same pleasure response as someone who has a higher density of dopamine.

As you can see there are many contributing factors that can affect quantity and quality of sleep.  By identifying the underlying causes of poor sleep based on your DNA is the gateway to finding the solutions that are right for you.  

How To Increase Deep Sleep

Regardless of how your genes are impacting your ability to sleep at night, there are several things you can do to increase your deep sleep and wake up feeling more rested. Here are some practical steps you can take to improve your sleep quality at night:

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
  • Maximize sunlight exposure
  • Reduce blue light exposure (screen time) at night
  • Stop eating at least 2 hours before bed
  • Don’t take naps
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid caffeine after 2:00 PM
  • Start meditating

In order to uncover the sleep strategies that work for your unique genome, you need to find out whether you are genetically predisposed towards sleep disruption. You can do this by decoding your genes through the DNA testing that I am now offering. You’ll receive an individualized sleep report along with other helpful custom reports surrounding nutrition, hormones, fitness, cardiovascular health, immunity, and behavior.

If you have ordered your test already from me and sleep is a major problem for you then we can prioritize this part of your report when we have our consultation since sleep is one of the key pillars of long term health, weight maintenance and anti-ageing. 

Your sleep report includes your genetic tendencies as well as practical steps you can take to optimize your sleep quality. You are a unique individual, and you deserve sleep strategies that target your unique sleep issues. 

If you have not ordered your test yet but would like to learn more then email me to set up a time to discuss this in more detail.