Hear that? That’s the sound of everyone in the field of sleep chattering about the merit of a new study. Published in the journal Sleep, said study suggests that, based on an analysis of ancestry-based genetic markers, people with more African genetic ancestry get less slow-wave sleep. Scandalous. But let’s not get our EEG sensors in a twist just yet. While the study floats a data-backed idea, it by no means provides certainty.
According to a press release from the University of Pittsburgh, researchers who worked on the study believe it’s possible that there’s a real genetic basis for the observed trend in diminished deep-sleep. In other words, they don’t think some separate environmental or psychological factor, such as stress, mental disorders, cardiovascular disease or health-care access, explains the link between black ancestry and low amounts of slow-wave sleep.
"Although all humans have the same set of genes, variations within the genes sometimes follow population-specific patterns,” said study author Monica Hall. “By identifying the specific genetic variants that influence slow-wave sleep, we can eventually develop population-specific treatment approaches and therapies for sleep."
For the study, 60 African Americans and 101 European Americans completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (the standard measure of rest-assessment) and underwent at-home polysomnographic sleep testing. They also submitted blood samples, which researchers matched against ancestral genetic data to determine, basically, how much black blood participants had. Participants’ African-American ancestry ranged from 10 percent to 88 percent, averaging at 67 percent. Those with higher amounts, researchers found, got less deep sleep.
Among characteristics of sleep, only slow-wave-sleep levels revealed a discernible ancestral link. Researchers didn’t observe the same trend in the efficiency with which participants fell asleep or the duration of their night’s rest.
Identifying the ways in which genetic makeup can put someone at a higher risk of disease can be useful in helping people stay healthy. But, genetics play a complicated role in health and wellbeing. So, don’t amplify the results to say more than they do about the possibility of a race-based genetic predisposition towards paltry deep sleep.