Not only do I love to nap, I’m goddamn good at it. Give me a pillow and a 20-minute timer and I’m set to snooze and feel refreshed afterwards. I thought I was just a particularly sleepy gal, but as it turns out, my nap habit actually has more in common with my cleft chin and susceptibility toward heartburn — that is, it’s genetic.
Publishing their findings in Nature Communications in early February, researchers analyzed nap data and genetic information from over 453,000 people via the U.K. Biobank and 541,000 people via 23andMe. Together, they found 123 regions of the human genome linked with taking naps. Among these genes are ones previously linked to sleep disorders like narcolepsy, wakefulness and obesity-hypersomnolence, or obesity and excessive daytime sleepiness. Several of the genes identified were associated with the neuropeptide orexin, which can produce feelings of being alert.
While the researchers were indeed able to connect one’s genes with their napping habits, it’s not necessarily good or bad news. As they refined the data, they also found a potential link between these napping genes and higher blood pressure and waist circumference. They assert, though, that the relationship between genes, napping and health issues need to be further studied before more specific claims can be made.
One particularly interesting take away from the study was that men reported more frequent daytime napping than women, and that genes can’t quite explain this difference. Generally, the researchers believe napping habits are the result of people either biologically requiring more sleep than others, people waking up earlier than their bodies require or to compensate for poor quality sleep. With future research, they could find that genes play a further role in these causes.
Increasingly, we’re learning that sleep needs are far more individualized than we may have thought. Rather than needing eight hours of sleep, some may need much less, while others may be better suited for nine hours at night and a quick nap in the afternoon. Perhaps someday, we’ll be able to test our genes to know exactly what it is we need to serve our body best.