Sleep Disorders, Schizophrenia Share Genes

Following up on numerous studies in the last few months linking schizophrenia to sleep disorders, a team based at the University of Oxford has demonstrated not only a link between the two, but has also identified genes that seem to influence both.

Nearly 80 percent of schizophrenia patients report trouble sleeping, but this has often been attributed to medication side effects. Only recently have researchers set out to show that the same neurological mechanisms responsible for schizophrenia may also predispose a person to sleep disorders. For example, scientists now know that the SNAP25 gene is both a factor in the development of schizophrenia and an important regulator of the circadian system, which helps adjust sleep patterns to correspond to periods of daylight and night.

The Oxford team selected 20 participants to wear motion-sensing wristwatches for six weeks. All 20 had schizophrenia and the movements recorded allowed the researchers to tell when each subject was awake and when asleep. The subjects also submitted urine samples to be tested for melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. A group of 21 healthy adults served as a control.

Findings show that healthy people display a stable, regular sleep pattern, but schizophrenia sufferers often show irregular patterns or no patterns at all. For example, some subjects stay up late, some had circadian rhythms that constantly fluctuated or drifted from one day to another. The most extreme cases were those in which a person had no particular schedule, interspersing periods of sleep and wakefulness haphazardly throughout the day.

It is hypothesized that deviations in the genes result in disrupted brain pathways that hinder effective communication with the body's natural clock. These same disruptions could be part of what causes many of schizophrenia's symptoms.

Source: British Journal of Psychiatry

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