Is Insomnia Hereditary? – I Blame the Parents!

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“It’s all in your head.”

How many times have you heard that before?

In fact, up until very recently insomnia was always viewed as a psychological condition, typically triggered by things like stress, anxiety, grief, etc.

If you could in some ways learn to deal with these emotional issues then the likelihood of you getting a great night’s sleep would increase tenfold.

However, it now appears that there may be some biological factors at play.

So, your difficulty in falling asleep and those constant restless nights may not simply be “in your head”.

Is insomnia hereditary?

This is the focus of today’s article and I’d like to delve a little deeper if I may.

A Closer Look at Insomnia

Before I go any further, I want to take a quick look at what insomnia is and some facts around this sleep disorder.

Firstly, a common misconception is that insomnia is just about not being able to fall asleep at night.

There are various other symptoms which include, waking up in the morning and not feeling refreshed, waking up throughout the night, and waking up early and being unable to fall asleep again.

We are now aware that insomnia affects somewhere between 10-22% of adults worldwide.

Insomnia has been linked with various mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. It can also lead to numerous physical disorders including, cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, etc.

It’s in the Genes

According to very recent scientific evidence some people have specific genes which increase their stress reactivity. As you are probably aware, increased stress levels can lead to poor sleep and insomnia.

Poor and insufficient sleep can in turn interrupt the normal function of your genes, which leads to a vicious circle of sleep deprivation.

It is estimated that seven, and possibly more, different types of insomnia can be linked to your genes.

In fact, just a week of mild insomnia can affect over 700 different genes in the body. Sleeping during the day can disrupt over 30% of your genes.

This disruption plays havoc with your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal 24-hour sleep-wake cycle) and this can throw various other body functions out of sync, e.g. inflammations, metabolism, immune system, and your response to stress and anxiety.

Whether insomnia is hereditary, genetic testing is the only obvious way to know.

With that being said, you should talk to as many members of your family as possible.

Do any of them suffer with sleep problems?

If so, what have they done to deal with it?

The Scientific Studies Behind Insomnia Possibly Being Hereditary

Eus Van Someren, a professor of sleep at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience conducted a study to ascertain whether there were biological factors that could be linked to insomnia.

Someren identified a total of 7 genes linked with insomnia, which means there is definitely a biological component to this sleep disorder. He hoped that people would now start to realize that there is a biological vulnerability to insomnia, and that it isn’t simply “all in the head”.

As I’ve alluded to above, another study found that insomnia isn’t just about waking up feeling dazed, confused and excessively tired. Insomnia is also a risk factor for a wide variety of mental and physical issues and ailments.

Both these studies concluded that insomnia will often run in families.

A separate study analyzed the DNA of approximately 113,000 people. The average age of the study participants was 57. All the patients were questioned about their sleeping habits, including whether they had trouble falling asleep or woke up during the night.

Anyone who answered that this was a usual trait for them was classified as having some form of insomnia.

Interestingly, there were 7 specific genes found in the people who had insomnia. It was therefore determined that these 7 genes could well indicate that a person was more susceptible to insomnia.

The researchers identified one particular gene that had been linked to other types of sleep disorders in earlier studies.

The sleep disorders in question were periodic limb movement disorder and restless leg syndrome.

Periodic limb movement disorder typically involves moving one’s arms and legs over-and-over while asleep.

Restless leg syndrome is identified by unusual and often painful feelings in the legs, and an uncontrollable urge to move your legs while lying in bed.

Once again, it was discovered that certain genes linked to insomnia also extended to genes that are associated with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

What is Fatal Familial Insomnia?

Fatal familial insomnia (FFI) shouldn’t be confused as to whether “general” insomnia is hereditary, they are two completely different things.

FFI is an extremely rare sleep disorder that runs in families. It specifically affects the thalamus, which is a small structure in the brain that controls various motor and sensory functions, such as pain, touch and temperature.

The main symptoms of fatal familial insomnia include:

  • Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
  • Muscle spasms, stiffness and twitching.
  • A loss of appetite.
  • Tendency to move and kick while sleeping.
  • Dementia.

There are further symptoms associated with more advanced forms of FFI such as, excessive sweating and fever, loss of coordination, difficulty swallowing and speaking, increased heart rate and blood pressure, declining cognitive function, and of course, an inability to sleep.

The symptoms typically appear between the ages of 32 and 62, although there have been instances of the symptoms commencing at a younger and older age.

FFI is part of the family of prion disorders and diseases and collectively prion disorders affect one in 1,000,000 people per year.

There is a sporadic form of fatal familial insomnia, known as sporadic fatal insomnia, which is extraordinarily rare and has only been diagnosed in 24 people.

Final Words

Is insomnia hereditary?

On the evidence presented above it appears that insomnia can run in families.

There are various scientific studies which show that there is a biological component linked to insomnia.

We are now aware that there are 7 genes linked to insomnia and these genes can pass from generation to generation, making a person more susceptible to insomnia.

I guess what we could term “normal” or “general” insomnia shouldn’t be confused with fatal familial insomnia, which is an extremely rare condition.

If you feel as though insomnia is starting to take over your life and you’re unsure of what to do next then please take a moment to read my review of The Six Steps to Sleep Program.

Peter Litchfield’s fantastic and completely natural program has already helped over 150,000 people to cure their insomnia.

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