Genetics of the human circadian clock and sleep homeostat

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2020 Jan;45(1):45-54. doi: 10.1038/s41386-019-0476-7. Epub 2019 Aug 10.


Timing and duration of sleep are controlled by the circadian system, which keeps an ~24-h internal rhythm that entrains to environmental stimuli, and the sleep homeostat, which rises as a function of time awake. There is a normal distribution across the population in how the circadian system aligns with typical day and night resulting in varying circadian preferences called chronotypes. A portion of the variation in the population is controlled by genetics as shown by the single-gene mutations that confer extreme early or late chronotypes. Similarly, there is a normal distribution across the population in sleep duration. Genetic variations have been identified that lead to a short sleep phenotype in which individuals sleep only 4-6.5 h nightly. Negative health consequences have been identified when individuals do not sleep at their ideal circadian timing or are sleep deprived relative to intrinsic sleep need. Whether familial natural short sleepers are at risk of the health consequences associated with a short sleep duration based on population data is not known. More work needs to be done to better assess for an individual's chronotype and degree of sleep deprivation to answer these questions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Clocks / genetics*
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics*
  • Homeostasis / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Sleep / genetics*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / genetics*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology