A Gene That Regulates Sleep Might Have Been Found, So Maybe We Can Finally Beat Insomnia For Good

If you've ever wished you could get to bed earlier, but have found yourself a victim of your own internal clock, you know how hard it can be to regulate your sleep schedule. But guess what? I have good news: Science may have a discovered a way to help you to do just that, as a new study of flies has identified a gene that might regulate sleep. Kyunghee Koh and her research team at Thomas Jefferson University conducted a large experiment with fruit flies to study their sleep habits and see if they could identify the specific genes that were responsible for regulating those habits — and their results look like they might be onto something.

Did you know that flies need the same amount of sleep as human children? Yep, it turns out that male flies need about 12 hours of sleep and female flies need about 10, which is equivalent to young kids' sleep needs. This made the buzzy little insects the perfect subjects for Koh's experiment: Using 3,000 flies whose gene pool was given random mutations, the researchers were able to closely monitor the flies' sleep habits in the lab. Through this process, they could then identify what gene is the most relied on for sleep regulation — this this case, it's the gene taranis that might be the key to unlocking the answers to the riddle of sleep regulation.

The flies that had mutations of teranis in their genes were only getting about 25 percent of the sleep they normally required; meanwhile, those who had the gene completely wiped from their DNA didn't sleep hardly a wink. So, the research team concluded that teranis works in tandem with some proteins to help balance the flies' sleep cycles.

Taranis and the protein cyclin A are what kept the flies asleep; together, they stifled the activity of an enzyme that was responsible for keeping the flies up and about for the 10 to 12 hours necessary for a healthy fly's sleep cycle. Once those sleep needs were met, they stopped the enzyme suppression, allowing them to wake up and get back to business. But, flies that had the mutated gene of taranis in their system didn't get an adequate amount of sleep due to the fact that it didn't properly stifle the enzyme.

Of course, the question you're probably asking is this: Can the results of this study be applied to humans? The answer is still unknown, but there seems to be promise. It turns out that the gene taranis has a relative that is present in mammals; it could function in a similar fashion, although more research will be required to determine whether that's actually the case.

Koh commented on this to TIME, saying, "We don’t know yet whether these genes have a role in sleep in mammals or humans, but our hope is that somehow these genes we find in flies may have similar roles in people, and might ultimately give us some novel drug targets to help us sleep better." Let's hope these findings can lead to new discoveries in sleep for humans, so that we can all get the seven to nine hours of shut eye that we desperately need.

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