Scientists Find "Key Sleep Gene"

Scientists believe they have identified the gene which determines how much sleep humans can get by on. A US team found that fruit flies with a mutated version of the gene were able to get by on much less sleep than others. Fruit flies have a similar genetic make-up and sleep patterns to humans. University of Wisconsin Medical School researchers said the findings may help develop new techniques to help treat people with sleeping problems. Fruit flies sleep anywhere between six and 12 hours each night - just as humans do. But in the study of 9,000 flies, published in the journal Nature, the researchers found some were functioning on just three or four. The flies which could get by on less sleep had a fault in a gene called Shaker, which stopped the flow of potassium into cells. However, one consequence of their sleeping patterns was that they died much earlier. Recent studies have suggested potassium may be involved in sleep patterns in humans.

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