DNA Testing For Sleep Disorders
You’ve been tossing and turning each night for years, but you don’t know why. Or maybe, you’ve been what you call a “light sleeper” all your life. What about feeling like a night owl who just can’t fall asleep, even though you know you’ll need to be up for work in just a few hours?
Many people who can relate to these scenarios think that their inability to get quality sleep has everything to do with environment or lifestyle. But what many don’t know is that your genetics can be a major factor in just how well you sleep.
In fact, more and more people are interested in exploring their DNA to better understand just why they have difficulty sleeping. And while it’s easy to think that just reducing coffee intake later in the day or buying a better mattress is the solution to getting better, more restful sleep, there’s also new research that shows your genetic code could be a huge reason for why those ideas won’t work.
In fact, researchers have discovered two areas of DNA that have huge impacts on sleep behavior, one of which is linked to long sleep cycles and another that is linked to short periods of rest. For some people, gene mutations that they were born with can lead to a variety of issues with sleep, even leading to sleep disorders that make it difficult to get the rest their bodies need.
If you’re intrigued by the idea that your sleep issues or a potential sleep disorder could be related to genes — meaning the genetic code you were born with impacts the rest you get (or don’t get) each night — then know that DNA testing could be the answer to finding out more.
Can A DNA Test Tell Me If I Have A Sleep Disorder?
DNA tests are able to provide so much information that’s specifically tailored to you.
And all of that information is a great resource when it comes to analyzing your personal health and wellness needs. For many people who are considering using a DNA test to find out if they have a sleep disorder, they’re often disappointed to not get definitive results.
That’s because a DNA test isn’t a diagnostic tool. DNA tests can give you the clues that help you determine if you may have a sleep disorder — such as genetic mutations that are known to be related to difficulty sleeping, having a shorter or longer circadian rhythm than the average person, or having increased or decreased body movement.
But, just because these genes are (or are not) present doesn’t mean that you do or don’t have a sleep disorder.
So, if a DNA test can’t for sure tell you if you have a sleeping disorder, such as insomnia or a delayed circadian sleep clock, you may be wondering why you should consider spending money on the test. If you’re struggling with an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder, consider DNA a tool that can unlock clues to help with treatment.
Understanding your personal genetic factors that may be influencing your inability to sleep or reducing your quality of sleep can help you and a medical professional determine the best course of action for treatment.
What Is A DNA Test?
If you’ve been hearing a lot about DNA tests on the news, on social media, or through friends and family, you may be wondering what the big deal is.
What is a DNA test, anyway? In the simplest sense, DNA tests are a kind of medical testing tool that look into your personal genetic code — that being the genes that impact everything about who you are.
DNA tests are great at determining information about your help, wellness, and other factors based on the information genetic scientists get from analyzing your specific DNA.
And while these tests are commonly known for being used to catch suspects in crimes or for proving paternity in child custody disputes, the uses for DNA are far and vast.
Taking a DNA test is easier now than ever before thanks to the popularity of at-home DNA test kits that you can purchase online from a variety of testing companies.
And, because the data is from at-home DNA test kits is kept anonymous, many people feel that DNA tests are an easy way to understand potential health risks, or learn more about themselves, without the fear of this information going on their medical record.
Plus, at-home DNA tests are more accessible because of their low cost. On average, DNA test kits that you can purchase online (or at some department and drug stores) retail between $70 and $200; with holiday and seasonal sales, the cost sometimes drops as low as $50 for a DNA kit.
DNA testing is also available through a doctor’s office. This form of DNA testing is usually ordered by your doctor because they believe that genetics could play a role in a health issue that you may have.
One of the most common uses for medically necessary DNA tests is for pregnant women and unborn babies to determine the risk of developing or having a certain condition that could impact their health. These tests are much more comprehensive and have the benefit of being provided by a genetic scientist or counselor to help you better understand the results.
What Are The Types Of DNA Tests?
There are several kinds of DNA tests available on the market, so you may be wondering what the best type is for you.
First off, you should understand that DNA tests fall into two categories: medically necessary, and non-medically necessary. These two designations have a huge impact on how you’ll get the test, how much it’ll cost, and the information and resources you’ll be provided with afterward.
Medically necessary DNA tests: If a doctor is concerned that you (or for pregnant women, an unborn child) may have a certain health condition that can’t be diagnosed in any other way than a blood or DNA test, they may order what’s called a medically necessary DNA test.
These tests are often utilized if you’re undergoing some kind of treatment for a potential or unknown health condition, especially when your medical provider isn’t quite sure what’s going on, or what kind of treatment to move forward with.
Medically necessary DNA tests give your doctor or medical team the strongest clues on how to move forward, and truly are necessary for improving your health. These tests are much more costly than a DNA test that you can purchase online and take in the comfort of your home, primarily because the test is much more comprehensive than an at-home test kit.
For that reason, medically necessary DNA tests are often partially or fully covered by your health insurance provider.
You should know that there are many ways a doctor can pull a DNA sample for a genetic test. In many cases, medically necessary DNA tests that are processed by a laboratory often utilize blood, though saliva can also be submitted.
In situations involving unborn babies and the need for DNA collection, procedures such as amniocentesis (collecting amniotic fluid from the womb) or chorionic villus sampling (also known as CVS sampling, which pulls DNA from the chorionic villi within the uterus) are invasive, but able to pull enough genetic data from babies to rule out or confirm conditions prior to delivery.
Non-medically necessary DNA tests: DNA tests that have non-medically necessary purposes are becoming more and more popular. These tests can provide tons of information, and aren’t considered invasive because they generally use blood or saliva to collect a DNA sample. Of the types of non-medically necessary DNA tests, the most popular include:
- Paternity tests: Testing for paternity of a child is still one of the top uses for DNA tests. These are often performed by a professional laboratory (with DNA collected by a medical professional) so that the results can be used in court for custody or child support disputes. But, paternity testing can also be used for adoptees who are trying to learn more about who they are, and who believe they may have found a birth parent (both male or female). Off-the-shelf paternity kits can be purchased online or at a drugstore for a low cost, though lab processing fees for paternity testing, in general, can range between $200 and $400 or more.
- Ancestry DNA tests: Many people interested in the world of DNA have decided to submit their genetic sample to learn more about their ancestors. AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and other genealogy testing companies such as MyHeritageDNA and Family Tree DNA all provide these services. Ancestry DNA tests are able to tell you where your ancestors may have come from, as well as more about your personal DNA, while linking you to potential relatives. Most ancestry DNA test kits range from $70 to $200.
- At-home medical DNA tests: If your doctor determines you don’t have a medical need for a DNA test, but you want to learn more about if you are at risk of developing a disease such as Alzheimer’s or breast cancer, an at-home medical DNA test can provide some insight. These tests compare your genes and their variations to those of other people to determine whether or not you may be more likely than others to develop certain health issues. These tests can also provide a multitude of wellness information, such as how your body responds to exercise and certain foods or how well you may or not sleep. Test kits provided by 23andMe, Vitagene, the Mayoclinic’s Geneguide and Helix are popular options.
Is Insomnia Hereditary?
Many people who suffer from insomnia look for causes — and often ask family members if they suffer from the same condition.
In many cases, multiple people in one family may suffer from insomnia, leading others to wonder if the sleep disorder is hereditary. Within the last ten years, researchers have determined that insomnia is “moderately” inheritable, meaning that if your parents struggle with insomnia, there’s a chance that you might, also.
When it comes to understanding how genetics plays into sleep disorders, specifically for insomnia, researchers aren’t quite sure how large a role genetics has.
For some people with family histories of insomnia, genetic researchers try to first understand if poor sleeping habits were established during childhood; think of it this way — if mom and dad didn’t sleep well, an had inconsistent sleep schedules, you may have been influenced by this behavior, exacerbating any genetically inherited sleep disorders you may have.
Millions of people across the globe struggle with insomnia. Researchers believe that, on average, 33 percent of people (that’s one in three) have some form of mild insomnia.
And while conventional treatment is offered by sleep specialists and clinics, focusing on creating good sleeping habits and treating major causes (such as stress, depression, or anxiety), for some people, the reasons why they have insomnia just aren’t clear.
That’s where a DNA test can help determine the best course of action; if insomnia does seem to run in the family, people who try have tried the professional advice of sleep specialists over and over again can point to a reason as to why they don’t sleep well, and potentially can consider new treatments for curing their insomnia.
Are Sleep Disorders Genetic?
But when it comes to other sleep-related disorders, there’s much research to be done about whether or not these conditions are inherited from parents.
For some sleep disorders, such as those that lead to the need for more or less sleep for optimal daytime functioning, there is a chance that they could be passed from parent to child.
But for others, such as narcolepsy, no link has been proven; in most cases of narcolepsy, people who suffer from it have no family history, and even with a small number of cases having been reported as running in families, there’s no clear link between genetic inheritance and developing the illness.
For people with sleep disorders such as delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), which impacts their circadian rhythm, more research is being done to determine if these conditions could be passed along through family genetics.
Because there are many factors at play when it comes to diagnosing, evaluating, and treating a sleep disorder, researchers work to understand sleep conditions and how they are impacted not only by someone’s genes, but also by their body’s responses, lifestyle, and environment.
It is possible to have insomnia and other sleep disorders as a symptom or side effect of another genetically passed disease, such as a prion disease (a group of conditions that impact the nervous system, memory, and movement) or Fragile X-associated primary ovarian insufficiency (also known as FXPOI, which reduces the function of women’s ovaries).
But, because these conditions are the main source of sleep-related health issues, treating the main illness can help alleviate a sleep disorder.
What Is The Best DNA Test For Sleep Disorders?
At this time, there aren’t many DNA tests that you can purchase for use at home that will give you more information about potential sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
But, two of the most popularly marketed and used DNA tests available are provided by 23andMe and Helix.
23andMe’s Health + Ancestry test is a leader in DNA information related to sleep. The kit offers “Deep Sleep Reports” that are able to explain how your genetic makeup may be impacting your sleep quality. By analyzing the BTBD9 and ADA genes, as well as others, 23andMe’s DNA kit can analyze your DNA and explain how these genes may be impacting your sleep based on any mutations they have.
In addition, 23andMe’s DNA kit also allows you to link in family members, such as parents, so that more analysis can be done relating to sleep genes that may be inherited. 23andMe’s DNA test kit costs around $199.
Another option is MySleepInsights by MyVytalics. This test is offered through DNA company Helix and retails for $70. What separates MySleepInsights from other sleep tests is that it explains how potential food allergies or sensitivities can also impact your sleep.
Understanding how foods containing caffeine, alcohol, or certain vitamins can be a useful tool at helping to treat a sleep disorder that’s been hard to gain control of. In addition, MySleepInsights will also look at sleep-related gene variants to give you a better understanding of how your DNA could be impacting your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get quality sleep.
Can A DNA Test Tell Me If I Have Genes For Insomnia?
Many people wonder if a DNA test can point out specific genes that put you at higher risk for insomnia.
But, the trouble with using a DNA test for understanding a potential sleep disorder is that there’s still so much for researchers to learn about the role genetics plays in the quality (and quantity) of sleep we get.
Still, some DNA tests are able to look at known genes related to sleep. 23andMe, for example, analyzes two specific genes — BTBD9 and ADA — and their variants. These two genes may have some connection to how well you are able to fall asleep, and how often you move while you are sleeping.
23andMe’s “Deep Sleep” reports, which are created based on how your BTBD9 and ADA genes you have mutated, can give some insight to how you may be sleeping, but aren’t able to definitively tell you that you have genes for insomnia, whether you are at risk for developing a sleep disorder, or if you currently have insomnia or some other kind of sleep-related health issue.
In addition, there are other genes that many DNA tests may look for when determining your quality of sleep, and how your genetic code may impact how well you are sleeping. They include:
CLOCK gene: This gene impacts how your circadian rhythm is regulated. If you find that you’re a night owl, or instead are definitely a morning person, it could be because your circadian locomotor output cycles kaput (CLOCK) gene has a strong influence.
AANAT gene: For people who need to take melatonin to fall asleep, it could be that their body doesn’t produce enough thanks to influence from their AANAT gene. This gene controls melatonin production, and with a lower level of melatonin, many people have difficulty falling (and staying) asleep.
Genes related to restless leg syndrome: Researchers have studied genes such as MEIS1, BTBD9, and the PTPRD genes to understand how genes related to movement are linked to restless leg syndrome, as well as how movement during sleep impacts people. Considering that nearly 10 percent of Americans suffer from restless leg syndrome, this health condition has a huge influence on sleep quality.
Genes for narcolepsy: While scientists believe that narcolepsy is not an inherited gene, it’s still potentially linked to variations in two different genes. Many DNA tests that look at sleep-related portions of your DNA will also explore how these potential genes could be impacting you.
How Do I Interpret The Results Of The DNA Test?
When it comes to interpreting the results of your DNA test, specifically one that you have decided to take to find out more about the role of genes in a possible sleep disorder, don’t worry about getting stuck in the scientific jargon.
Most DNA test companies that market to consumers (meaning, you don’t have to buy them through a doctor) have easy-to-read results that will explain any anomalies or variants on genes related to sleep.
For example, if the DNA test laboratory determines that there is a variant on your CLOCK gene that is often linked to having a short circadian rhythm, you may be able to use this clue to understand why you don’t sleep as long as other people.
But, just because a variant that could be impacting your sleep has been identified, doesn’t mean that gene is “turned on” and actually doing so. In fact, DNA tests can identify all kinds of genes and their variants that may not even have any impact on your health and wellness.
Genetic scientists are often wary about recommending at-home DNA tests because it’s very easy to misread the results and draw incorrect conclusions.
If you have more questions about your DNA test results, the best next step is to speak with a sleep or genetic counselor to determine how the results could be useful to you, especially when it comes to treating your condition.