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Research unravels genetics of insomnia and links to disease

Research unravels genetics of insomnia and links to disease

An international collaboration used data from 450,000 UK Biobank participants to discover more areas of the genome that are linked to insomnia than ever before.

The research led by the University of Exeter Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and was published in Nature Genetics. It identified 57 areas of the genome and also found that frequent insomnia could cause depression and coronary artery disease, a form of heart disease.

The research, funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), is the most comprehensive insight to date on the link between genetics and insomnia, which affects up to a third of people at any given time. It increases risk of illness and disease, which comes with a high cost to the economy.

At the moment, cognitive behavioural therapy is thought to be the best treatment, but access is limited, meaning many people do not get effective relief.

The findings were confirmed in nearly 15,000 people who had insomnia in the Nord-Trøndelag Health (HUNT) study, led by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU), and more than 2,000 people who had been diagnosed with insomnia in the Partners Biobank cohort. In addition, the findings were validated in 85,000 people whose sleep quality, timing and duration was estimated from activity monitor data.

"None of this work is possible without large collaborative studies across multiple institutes and countries. The UK Biobank is a transformative study in scope and scale, and we need more studies like it, particularly in groups that are underrepresented in genetic studies."

Senior author Richa Saxena, an investigator at the MGH Center for Genomic Medicine

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