Is There a Genetic Mutation That Causes Less Need For Sleep?

Last updated: May 6, 2019

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The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

In a world where sleep deprivation is one the biggest sleep problems, a small number of people manage thrive on short sleep. A genetic mutation seems to be responsible for the fact that they can live perfectly fine on about 6 hours of sleep.

For the majority of people this amount of sleep produces consequences like poor attention, weak immunity, slow reaction time, and hormone imbalance among others. For this lucky group of short sleepers, this is not a problem.

What type of genetic mutation causes less need for sleep?

A gene called DEC2 (or BHLHE41) has been found to regulate sleep. A study from 2009 conducted on humans showed that a DEC2 mutation causes short sleep with no consequences.

Out of about 1,000 volunteers who took part in the study, only two women were found to have this type of mutation – and they turned out to be a mother and daughter. They had no health problems. Not only that, but they reported being highly energetic with busy schedules and plenty of activities.

This additionally proved to researchers that the pair didn’t need more sleep – they were more active than most of the 8-hour sleepers.

Their immediate family was tested as well – they had no such mutation and needed a normal amount of sleep.

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To test it on animals, scientists copied the gene and produced mice with the same mutation. What happened was that they slept less and were active for a longer time compared with normal mice – with no consequences.

Scientists believe that their sleep is simply more effective – all the restoration, memory consolidation, and brain cleanup that normal people do in 8 hours, they can do in 6 and then get up and get on with their day.

Am I a short sleeper?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep for adults. Considering how rare this amazing genetic mutation is, you are likely not one of the lucky ones.

Many people believe they are natural short sleepers and that they can thrive on less than 7 hours of sleep, but research shows us that the facts say otherwise. People with this mutation are naturally extremely energetic and optimistic; whereas those who have insufficient sleep usually have poor attention, depressive thoughts, low energy and not much motivation.

Some estimates claim that out of all short sleepers, only 1% may have the genetic mutation and the rest are simply getting too little sleep.

How can I be more effective at sleeping?

There are some things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. Quality sleep means you have plenty of time to rest in a proper sleep environment and with no sleep disturbances.

If you suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, you might have some sleep problems that have been going untreated. Make sure to consult your doctor for possible causes.

The room in which you sleep should be cool, quiet, and dark. You shouldn’t eat a lot, exercise, drink alcohol, take drugs, or expose yourself to artificial light prior to bedtime (they either delay sleep time, or impair sleep quality). Avoid caffeine from late afternoon onwards.

If you are stressed out try to relax before sleeping. Excessive stress has a negative impact on sleep as we can’t reach deep sleep stages that restore and rejuvenate us when in such a state.

Keep the same sleep schedule every day. When you do so, your sleep becomes regular and more effective.

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We can’t start needing less sleep than we are genetically predisposed, but we can make the sleep we do get healthy and refreshing.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Additional resources

  1. He Y, Jones C. R, et al. The Transcriptional Repressor DEC2 Regulates Sleep Length in Mammals. Science. 14 August 2009.  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/325/5942/866 Accessed April 11, 2019.
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