In 2016, a study on mice found that certain sleep traits, like insomnia, have genetic underpinnings. Several studies of human twins have also suggested that insomnia can be an inherited trait. Now, new research published in Molecular Psychiatry not only reinforces that finding, but also suggests that there may be a genetic link between insomnia and some other psychiatric and physical disorders, like depression and type 2 diabetes, as Psych Central alerts us.
Insomnia is particularly prevalent in populations of military veterans. For this study, researchers at VA San Diego Healthcare System analyzed questionnaire responses and blood samples from almost 33,000 new soldiers at the beginning of basic training, along with pre- and post-deployment surveys from nearly 8000 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan starting in early 2012. They conducted genome-wide association tests to determine the heritability of insomnia and links between insomnia and other disorders. The results were adjusted for the presence of major depression (since insomnia is a common symptom of depression).
The genotype data showed that insomnia disorder was highly heritable and pinpointed potential genes that may be involved. The study indicated that there's a strong genetic correlation between insomnia and major depression. (The two were distinct, though, meaning that the insomnia couldn't be totally explained by the depression.) They also found a significant genetic correlation between insomnia and type 2 diabetes.
Because the study relied on data from the U.S. military, the study doesn't have the most far-reaching sample—it was largely male and wasn't as racially diverse as it could have been. (While it analyzed responses from recruits from European, African, and Latino ancestry, there weren't enough Asian-American participants to analyze as a group.) The responses were also self-reported, which isn't always the most accurate data-collection method.
The genes indicated by this study could be used to develop new treatments for insomnia, but future studies will likely need to explore these questions within broader populations.
[h/t Psych Central]
Have you ever noticed that your fingers and toes get wrinkled when you’ve been soaking in water for a while? We often call this “prune hands,” because it makes your fingers look shriveled like a prune. (A prune is a dried plum.) The shriveling happens when blood vessels under your skin get narrower. This is caused by your autonomic (Aw-toe-NAW-mick) nervous system. This system keeps your lungs breathing and your heart beating without you having to think about it.
The wrinkles seem to help us grip and not slip! Look at the bottom of your shoe. Does it have grooves? Those are called treads. The tires on cars and buses have treads too. The water that goes into those narrow grooves gets pushed away. It works the same way with your skin. Water drains from your hands through these grooves. We think this helps us to hold onto objects better. Scientists tested this theory with an experiment. They asked people with wet, wrinkled hands to pick up wet marbles and dry marbles. People picked up the wet marbles faster with wet, wrinkled hands.
Some scientists now think that humans evolved (Ee-VAWLVD)—changed over time—to have this reaction. Being able to hold onto wet things might have helped our ancient ancestors survive. Think about it: if your food lives in a wet place, like a river, ocean, or rainforest, you have a better chance of grabbing it if your fingers “stick” to it. If you are climbing a wet tree, wrinkled fingers might help keep you from falling. Wrinkled toes can help, too. If you’re barefoot, your toes need a good grip in wet or muddy places.
Want to hear more about the marble experiment? Watch this video from SciShow.