Sleep and Genetics: Unraveling the DNA of Healthy Sleep Patterns

The Critical Intersection of Healthcare, Sleep, and Brain Health

Many healthcare professionals, indeed more than half, report a concerning lack of time during standard office visits to adequately address insomnia and other sleep-related issues. This shortfall is particularly alarming given the paramount importance of deep, restorative sleep for brain health – surpassing the efficacy of any supplement, superfood, exercise regimen, trick, tactic, or hack. Sleep stands as the cornerstone for repairing, resetting, and optimizing brain function. I have a strong conviction that, holding all else constant, healthy sleep patterns are foundational to achieving and maintaining an optimal brainspan (akin to healthspan for the brain).

Pioneers of Selective Sleep

Humans are unique in their tendency to postpone rest, a habit not observed in other mammals. The modern lifestyle, filled with artificial light and digital distractions, deviates sharply from our evolutionary roots, contributing to widespread sleep issues. Factors such as stress, illness, and environmental disturbances further complicate our quest for peaceful slumber, highlighting the complex challenges in achieving quality rest in today’s world.

The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus: A Timekeeper in Our Brain

Inside our brain, there’s a tiny but important group of about 20,000 brain cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, located just above where our optic nerves cross. This little control center is part of the hypothalamus and helps manage when we sleep and when we’re awake by responding to light. It does this by controlling the release of two chemicals, serotonin and melatonin, which help set our body’s daily rhythm, also known as our circadian rhythm. When this system is thrown off, it can cause a lot of problems like feeling hungrier, stomach issues, heart problems, trouble remembering things, and even causing our brain to shrink. This proves just how connected our sleep is to our overall health.

The Genetic Underpinnings of Sleep

Variations in genes such as 5-HTTLPR, TPH2, CLOCK, ADRA2B, and BDNF influence our sleep patterns, susceptibility to sleep disorders, and even how our brain functions during sleep. These genetic factors can affect everything from our circadian rhythm to how we process stress and anxiety, highlighting the profound impact of genetics on sleep quality and, by extension, on our brain health and overall well-being.

5-HTTLPR and Serotonin Transport

The 5-HTTLPR gene, associated with the serotonin transporter, plays a pivotal role in regulating serotonin availability in the brain, a neurotransmitter critical for maintaining mood balance, appetite, and sleep. Variations in this gene can affect the efficiency of serotonin reuptake, influencing serotonin levels and, consequently, sleep quality. Individuals with certain polymorphisms of 5-HTTLPR may experience disruptions in their sleep patterns, potentially leading to difficulties in initiating or maintaining sleep.

TPH2 and Serotonin Synthesis

The TPH2 gene encodes for tryptophan hydroxylase 2, an enzyme crucial for the synthesis of serotonin from tryptophan. This process is vital for maintaining adequate serotonin levels in the brain, which in the absence of light, is converted to melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. Variations in the TPH2 gene can thus directly impact the synthesis of serotonin, affecting not only mood and appetite but also the regulation of sleep and circadian rhythms.

CLOCK Gene and Circadian Regulation

The CLOCK gene is central to the maintenance and regulation of circadian rhythms, including the sleep-wake cycle. This gene helps orchestrate the timing of various physiological processes, ensuring they are aligned with the external environment’s day-night cycle. Variants of the CLOCK gene can disrupt this alignment, leading to altered sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep at conventional times or experiencing poor sleep quality, and can even influence mood and metabolic processes.

ADRA2B and Stress Response

The ADRA2B gene is involved in coding the alpha-2B adrenergic receptor, which plays a role in the brain’s response to stress and anxiety. Variants in this gene can heighten stress sensitivity, potentially leading to sleep disturbances by making it more difficult to relax and fall asleep. This heightened arousal state can disrupt natural sleep cycles, leading to less restorative sleep and impacting overall health.

BDNF and Neuronal Health

Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is essential for the survival, growth, and maintenance of neurons in the brain. It supports learning, memory, and higher cognitive functions. Sleep quality directly affects BDNF levels where deep, restorative sleep can boost BDNF production, enhancing brain function and health. Conversely, sleep deprivation can lead to decreased BDNF levels, impairing cognitive functions and memory. Interestingly, BDNF also plays a role in regulating sleep cycles, influencing REM sleep, and contributing to the homeostatic regulation of sleep need.

While genetics play a foundational role in determining our sleep patterns and vulnerability to sleep disorders, lifestyle and environmental factors significantly modulate these effects. Understanding the genetic underpinnings of sleep offers a pathway to personalized sleep medicine, where interventions can be tailored to an individual’s genetic profile, potentially improving sleep quality and, by extension, overall health and well-being.

Lifestyle, Environment, and Sleep Disruption

Humans uniquely challenge their sleep through lifestyle choices and environmental conditions, from the consumption of caffeine and alcohol to the exposure to artificial light and electronic screens. These behaviors, coupled with stress and physical health issues, create a complex web of factors that can hinder the quality of our sleep, emphasizing the need for a holistic approach to improve sleep hygiene and manage the factors within our control.

Strategies for Improving Sleep Quality

Addressing sleep quality involves a multifaceted approach, including understanding the impact of one’s unique genetics, adopting effective sleep hygiene practices, and considering the role of supplements such as magnesium, melatonin, B complex, Theanine, and even the little known herb: California poppy (one of my very favourites). Strategies for enhancing sleep extend to managing environmental factors, regulating lifestyle habits, and exploring natural supplements, all aimed at supporting the natural sleep cycle and improving brain health. But maybe most important of all is sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene encompasses a series of practices essential for achieving high-quality sleep and maintaining optimal health. It’s about setting up a nightly routine and creating an environment that enhances your ability to sleep deeply to achieve rejuvenative sleep regularly. This means going to bed and waking up at consistent times to regulate your body’s clock, ensuring your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a cool temperature (ideally 65 to 68°), and reserving your bed for sleep and relaxation only. Avoiding caffeine and screen time before bed, winding down with calming activities in the evening, and keeping active during the day — but not exercising too close to bedtime — are also key strategies. By adhering to these sleep hygiene principles, you can significantly improve the quality of your sleep, contributing to better mood, health, and overall daily functioning.

Addressing Snoring and Sleep Apnea: A Critical Health Concern

There are also serious implications of snoring and sleep apnea for brain health, emphasizing the importance of monitoring blood oxygen levels and exploring interventions such as CPAP therapy even if you snore lightly! Recognizing and treating these sleep disorders is crucial for preventing cognitive decline and promoting the restoration of brain structure and function.

Confronting Jet Lag

Jet lag exemplifies the disruption of our internal clocks, with research demonstrating its negative impact on neuron creation and cognitive functions. The suprachiasmatic nucleus’s role in establishing our circadian rhythm is crucial, yet our body’s preference for consistency means sudden time zone changes can severely disrupt our natural sleep patterns, underscoring the need for strategies like time-release melatonin to mitigate the effects of jet lag.

To mitigate jet lag with melatonin, the recommendation is to take 1mg of melatonin per 50lbs of body weight. This should be done approximately one hour before the desired sleep time in your new time zone. The duration for taking melatonin is one night for every two time zones crossed. Once back in your original time zone, you should repeat this regimen to help readjust your body’s internal clock.

Harnessing Genetics for Enhanced Sleep and Brain Longevity

Sleep’s profound impact on our well-being and the intricate dance between genetics and sleep quality has us arrive at a crucial juncture: the power of personal action.

Understanding your unique genetic blueprint through a DNA test from offers an unparalleled opportunity to tailor your sleep hygiene and lifestyle to your body’s specific needs. It includes all of the genes mentioned above and so much more! While our DNA is a constant, the expression of our genes is not fixed; through lifestyle modifications – especially those related to sleep – we can influence how our genes express.

Embracing this knowledge allows us to target areas where we might be genetically predisposed to challenges, turning potential vulnerabilities into opportunities for enhancement. By fine-tuning our environment and habits to support optimal sleep, we not only improve our nightly rest but also take a significant step toward extending our “brainspan,” ensuring our cognitive health and overall vitality for years to come.

I encourage you to take that first step towards understanding your genetic predisposition. Armed with knowledge from your own DNA report, you can embark on a journey of personalized lifestyle adjustments that promote better sleep, bolster your health, and optimize your brain’s longevity. Remember, while we can’t change our DNA, we can certainly influence how it expresses itself through the choices we make every day.

Make those choices count for a brighter, healthier future and get those zzzzzz’s!


Bryce Wylde B.Sc. Hons., DHMHS

Functional Medicine Clinician at | Founding Partner The DNA Co CityTV | Health


social: @wyldeonhealth

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