Why does sleep deprivation affect some people more than others? A new study found that it has to do with your brain’s response to sleep loss.
The study involved two groups of people. Members of one group all had a short variant of the PERIOD3 gene. The authors report that people with this genetic variant are more resilient to sleep loss; they tend to function well even after a period of sleep deprivation.
Participants in the other group all had a long variant of the PER3 gene. People with this genetic variant are more vulnerable to sleep loss; their cognitive performance suffers when they are sleep deprived.
“The extent to which individuals are affected by sleep deprivation varies, with some crashing out and others holding up well after a night without sleep,” said Dr. Michael Chee, an expert on sleep deprivation who commented on the study in a prepared statement.
To explain this difference, the researchers performed brain imaging during a working memory task.
Results show that the people with the short PER3 gene had increased brain activity when tested after a sleepless night. They compensated for sleep loss by “recruiting” help from other parts of the brain. This enabled them to maintain their performance when sleep deprived.
In contrast, brain imaging showed that people with the long PER3 gene had reduced brain activity after a night of sleep loss. In one brain region, their activity also was reduced when tested at night after a normal waking day. This suggests that people with the long PER3 gene perform better earlier in the day.
“This study and others like it could help in identifying those who may be at risk for performance decline in jobs where sleep deprivation is an integral feature,” said Chee.
Are you sleep deprived? Check out the seven signs you need sleep on SleepEducation.com.