Insomnia can be caused by the genes and not necessarily stress or anxiety, according to a study conducted by an international team of researchers.

Danielle Posthuma and Eus Van Someren of Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience led the research.

In a sample of 113,006 individuals, the researchers found 7 risk genes for insomnia. These genes play a role in the regulation of transcription, the process where DNA is read in order to make an RNA copy of it, and exocytosis, the release of molecules by cells in order to communicate with their environment.

Someren, a specialist in sleep and insomnia, believes that the findings are the start of a path towards an understanding of insomnia at the level of communication within and between neurons, and thus towards finding new ways of treatment.

“As compared to the severity, prevalence and risks of insomnia, only few studies targeted its causes,” Someren said.

“Insomnia is all too often dismissed as being ‘all in your head’. Our research brings a new perspective. Insomnia is also in the genes.”

The researchers also found a strong genetic overlap with other traits, such as anxiety disorders, depression and neuroticism, and low subjective well-being.

“This is an interesting finding, because these characteristics tend to go hand in hand with insomnia. We now know that this is partly due to the shared genetic basis,” says neuroscientist Anke Hammerschlag, PhD student and first author of the study.

“Part of the genetic variants turned out to be different. This suggests that, for some part, different biological mechanisms may lead to insomnia in men and women,” says Posthuma.

“We also found a difference between men and women in terms of prevalence: in the sample we studied, including mainly people older than fifty years, 33% of the women reported to suffer from insomnia. For men this was 24%.”



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