I have always envied people who are well-rested after six hours or less of sleep. Knowing how tired I feel after sleeping less than eight hours at night, I wonder how those who sleep less are even able to function normally. What is their secret? Caffeine? Herbs? Turns out a lot of it is in their potassium channels!
A recent study conducted by a group in Europe shows that the duration of sleep is affected by the intronic variants of the potassium channel ABCC9. The first step in this study was to conduct genome-wide association studies, where the average sleep duration was measured in a large population of more that 4000 patients. The genome-wide association studies identified a strong correlation between the potassium ATP channel encoding gene—ABCC9 and the duration of sleep in the cohort. This gene is also involved in metabolic disorders and cardiomyopathies. Taking their results one step further, the researchers developed knockdown mutants in Drosophila that now lacked the protein encoded by ABCC9. The mutant flies now had a reduced night-sleep duration, showing a direct link between the ABCC9 gene-encoded protein and sleep duration.
Potassium channels regulate heart health, blood pressure, and metabolism. Many of these conditions may be aggravated by lack of sleep. The current research opens the path towards understanding how sleep duration may influence overall well-being through regulation of the protein encoded by ABCC9. In a simplistic way, these results suggest that knockdown of ABCC9 reduces sleep duration and reduced sleep duration is often a contributing cause for sluggish metabolism and hypertension.
If this were a unique correlation, then the solution to these ailments is an overexpression of the protein encoded by ABCC9. However, biology is not linear and there are many other factors involved. While future research will most likely probe these complex relationships, the role of potassium channels in sleep regulation is a big step forward in both sleep research and cardiovascular research.