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The DEC2 Gene and Sleep: Can You Live On 6 Hours Of Sleep?

Written by Samantha Odake, BS (Mechanical Engineering) | Last updated:

People with the “short sleep” DEC2 gene mutation may require less sleep during the night than the average person. Are you one of the lucky ones? Find out what you can do to improve your sleep quality if you don’t have this DEC2 gene mutation.

An introduction to the “short sleep” DEC2 gene

A consistent four hours of sleep sounds like living hell… to most people. But to some, it’s what their bodies need.

What does that mean? Well, a percentage of the population carries the DEC2 gene mutation that causes “short sleep”. People with this genetic mutation only need a few hours of sleep per night to feel completely rested, between four to six hours of sleep to be exact.

It completely contradicts the public view of sleep.

It’s well known that poor sleep can have long-term health consequences. In fact, those who suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia may also experience more serious problems such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma

The popular claim is that human beings need to get eight hours of sleep per night across the board. But genes don’t care about popular claims.

People with the DEC2 gene mutation have actually claimed that if they sleep as much as 7 hours, they feel worse.

So is this really a genetic advantage? Let’s explore more here.

How the DEC2 gene works

DEC2, otherwise known as the BHLHE41 gene, helps control levels of orexin, a hormone linked to wakefulness as well as reward, mood, and appetite.

For a bit of context, narcolepsy can be considered the opposite of short sleep and is usually caused by a lack of this same hormone in the brain.

Ying Hui Fu led the research team that first discovered this DEC2 gene mutation in 2009. She explains that DEC2 is “the time-keeper to make sure orexin levels match the circadian rhythm.”

Notoriously, there seem to be no adverse effects either for these people who require less sleep, although the discovery is too recent for any conclusive evidence.

Fu claims that these short sleepers are very energetic, which, she says, is consistent with the fact that they can go on all day with various activities normally.

The research subjects Fu works with are quite fascinating…

Some of the research participants are older and still active. Fu says that even those who are older than 70 years of age still play sports and dance. There is no reason to suspect that their health is affected in any way, despite the shorter sleep cycle.

If you’re reading this and think these habits sound pretty familiar, you may be a DEC2 gene mutation carrier.

How can you know if you have this DEC2 gene mutation?

Do you wake up before the rest of the world? Not because you trained yourself to, but because your body just does.

Maybe you have a jolt of energy in the morning that seems strange to the people around you. Maybe you feel completely rested after only six hours of sleep, while most people would feel like a zombie without at least seven.

Are you an active person throughout the day? Do you finish one thing and then immediately jump to the next? Not because you feel like that’s what you’re “supposed to” do. It’s just the way you are.

Do you feel lethargic when you sleep more than 6 hours? Like the world has been telling you to sleep 7 hours, but every time you do you feel even worse than usual.

If any of these describe you, it may be worth checking your genotype.

To find out, simply search your SNP Analyzer in SelfDecode for rs121912617 and discover your genotype. If you have a TT or GT genotype, you are one of the lucky ones we call “short sleepers.”

DEC2 gene genotype

Don’t get too optimistic about it though. This DEC2 gene mutation is rare, so it might not account for your sleep habits.

So, why do I sleep so little?

Do you have this DEC2 gene mutation, or are you just tricking your body with caffeine and pills to not need as much sleep?

If you’re interested in finding out the reason why you don’t sleep as much as the next person, it may be worth it to check out the Insomnia DNA Report from SelfDecode. This report looks at 808,802 other gene variants that can affect your sleep.

DEC2 gene and insomnia

Maybe you have an above average genetic predisposition to insomnia, and that’s why you don’t sleep the whole night – not because you don’t need to, but because you can’t.

Luckily, if that’s your case, there are steps you can take to make sure you optimize your sleep. You may not have the short sleep DEC2 mutation, but maybe you have a certain GABRG2 gene variant that is linked to lower GABA activity.

GABA is a chemical that helps calm your mind. It inhibits your neural activity and facilitates sleep, among other things. So, it’s no surprise that low GABA activity can lead to restless nights.

The good news is that supplementing with valerian may help people with this GABRG2 gene variant by boosting GABA, which can help them sleep better.

Valerian root for sleep

Another thing that can affect sleep is excessive caffeine. To be fair, too much coffee isn’t great for anyone. But people with a certain MRNR1B variant are especially susceptible to insomnia when they consume caffeine.

DEC2 gene and caffeine

Reducing the total amount of coffee you drink during the day may help you get a better night’s sleep even more than the next person if you have this gene variant.

That’s why it’s important to know your genes. By getting your DNA tested and understanding what your body needs, you can make targeted changes to your lifestyle to help you optimize your sleep.

SelfDecode can tell you how likely you are to have sleep issues and gives personalized recommendations based on your DNA. More so, your recommendations will be prioritized based on what works best for your unique genetic makeup so you can know what to focus on.

Concluding remarks about the DEC2 gene

People with the “short sleep” DEC2 gene mutation may require significantly less sleep to feel rested, between four to six hours. More than that, they may feel more tired if they sleep for more than six hours. But not everyone is this lucky.

Most people just can’t get a good night’s sleep, and genetics may play a role in why. If you think it’d be worth it to improve your own sleep, SelfDecode will give you the step-by-step guide to do so based on your DNA.

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About the Author

Samantha Odake

Samantha Odake

BS (Mechanical Engineering)
Samantha is an engineer turned writer with a passion for helping people.

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