There are thousands of people across the country who put up with a level of sleep deprivation that would drive the rest of us insane.
Some of them find it difficult to sleep due to awkward shift working hours or an illness. However, it has now been revealed most of them belong to a newly identified group of people who are born without the ‘comfort’ genes needed for an easy sleep.
This means that they are immune to the feeling of warmth and relaxation which sends an average person off to sleep within 15 simple minutes.
These people’s genes are designed to maintain a state of mental alertness constantly. This means normal, prolonged periods of sleep are impossible and they can only sleep in short bursts.
Even then, they can struggle to get comfortable or find a good sleeping position.
Until recently, insomnia was considered a psychological complaint triggered by stress, grief, or sleep disruption as a result of shift work or jet lag.
But now doctors are beginning to understand the genetic explanation of why at least one third of the UK and Ireland population have constant sleep problems.
Professor van Someren, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, says unexplained sleeplessness seldom affects children, but seems to arise during adulthood, for reasons that are not understood.
Doctors have now admitted that the latest research findings on the genetics of sleep-disorders is all very new to them and their understanding is still in its infancy. However, the genetic connection means that medication can be developed.
“We never used to think about family history because it wasn’t considered relevant, now we realise it is very relevant indeed,” Adrian Williams, professor of sleep medicine at King’s College, London, told the Daily Mail.
“Doctors used to dismiss insomnia because they couldn’t help people, but now neuroscience, which has given us the ability to detect and measure brain activity, is producing answers which show genetic traits.”
Several large-scale projects have now begun in Europe and the U.S. to track affected people and search for genes they have in common.
Doctors aim to use the findings from these projects to create drugs that can block the chemicals produced by these genes, meaning affected people will at last get a good night’s sleep.
At the moment, frustrated insomniacs can try out the traditional sleep cures, some more modern ones and alternative remedies. But, it may seem that the future will hold a more-thorough medication that people who are affected by insomnia genetically can turn to.