Britain’s “Iron Lady,” Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, needed just four hours of sleep per night, or so they say. Albert Einstein, on the other hand, enjoyed lengthy 11-hour snoozes before returning each morning to rewriting the laws of physics. Was Thatcher a masochist? Einstein just lazy?

Personal preference, it turns out, may not have had much to do with it? A European study published in the scientific journal Molecular Psychiatry has just shown that a particular form of a gene —called ABCC9 — increases the average length of an individual’s nightly sleep by half an hour.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and from the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, questioned about 10,000 people from all around Europe on their sleeping habits. They were particularly curious to know how long people stay in bed on days when they don’t have any pressing reason to wake up early.

By comparing the duration of sleep with the results of a genetic analysis from a blood sample, the scientists found out that sleepers carrying a particular form of the ABCC9 gene typically spent more than eight hours in bed. People without the gene averaged just 7.5 hours. The researchers hope their discovery will lead the way towards more physiologically adapted sleep aids.

This is not the first time scientists have linked specific genes to different sleeping patterns. Tests involving rats and mice, for example, have shown how gene makeup can determine whether the animal is a “morning” or “evening” creature.

Researchers have also linked sleeping patterns to certain health problems. People who sleep fewer than six hours per day are more likely to have diabetes, hypercholesterolemia or cardiovascular disorders.

Read the original article in French by Martine Perez

Photo – aramolara

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