Heritability of Insomnia Symptoms in Youth and Their Relationship to Depression and Anxiety

Department of Psychiatry & Penn Sleep Center, University of Pennsylvania, 3535 Market Street, Suite 670, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Sleep (Impact Factor: 4.59). 12/2011; 34(12):1641-6. DOI: 10.5665/sleep.1424
Source: PubMed


Insomnia is a highly prevalent sleep disorder yet little is known about the role of genetic factors in its pathophysiology. The aim of this study was to examine the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors in explaining variability in insomnia symptoms.
Traditional twin design.
Academic medical center.
1412 twin pairs aged 8-16 years (48.8% MZ, 47.2% DZ, 4.0% indeterminate).
Ratings of insomnia symptoms, depression, and overanxious disorder were made by trained interviewers based on DSM-III-R criteria. ACE models were conducted using Mx statistical software. Insomnia symptoms were prevalent in this sample based both on parental (6.6%) and youth (19.5%) reports. The overall heritability of insomnia symptoms was modest (30.7%), with the remaining variance attributed to unique environmental effects. There was no evidence of sex differences in the prevalence of insomnia symptoms or in the contribution of genetic and environmental effects. In multivariate models, there was support for insomnia-specific unique environmental effects over and above overlapping effects with depression and overanxious disorder, but no evidence for insomnia-specific genetic effects.
Genetic factors play a modest role in the etiology of insomnia symptoms in 8-16 year-olds. These effects overlap with the genetics of depression and overanxious disorder. Further work is needed to determine which genes confer risk for all three disorders.

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    • "Possible mechanisms underlying associations between sleep disturbances and depression have been considered from multiple perspectives, including quantitative genetic approaches (for a review see Barclay & Gregory, 2013) and those considering intermediate pathways, including the role of hormones , neural and psychological processes (see Gregory & Sadeh, 2012). To summarise some of the findings concerning mechanisms, there is some indication that shared environmental influences may be important in the associations between sleep disturbances and emotional difficulties in early childhood (Van den Oord, Boomsma, & Verhulst, 2000) – but that genes are more important in explaining associations in older children and adolescents (Gehrman et al., 2011; Gregory, Rijsdijk, Dahl, McGuffin, & Eley, 2006). Genes may also be important in explaining longitudinal associations between phenotypes within childhood (Gregory, Rijsdijk, et al., 2009). "
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