As you can probably guess, the answer is complicated.

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Insomnia is a complicated condition.

While things like stressful events can trigger it, there is evidence to suggest that genetics can make a person more likely to have it.

According to various studies, the heritability of insomnia ranges from 22% to 59% in adults. The average figure is 39%.

Heritability simply measures how much the differences in people’s genes account for differences in various traits. The higher the heritability, the more likely the variation in the population comes down to genetics.

So, if your genes can only increase your risk of insomnia but can’t cause it, is there anything you can do to reduce that risk?

Read on to find out more about insomnia genes, risk factors, and treatment.

Sleep is complex, so finding specific genes with links to insomnia is tricky. Still, some scientists have attempted to find answers.

A 2019 study —one of the biggest to focus on the topic so far — showed that 57 gene regions linked to symptoms of insomnia.

Interestingly, these areas weren’t involved in sleep regulation but linked with a process called ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis, which destroys certain proteins.

But some genes of interest that experts identified in other research related to neuronal excitability in the body implied that overactivating areas promoting awakening might contribute to or even cause insomnia.

Just having genes with a link to insomnia doesn’t mean you will get the condition.

The environment can affect which genes your body expresses —this is known as epigenetics.

For example, stress, diet, temperature, and even the social life you lead may affect the way certain genes function, and therefore, affect your sleep.

As you can probably guess, it’s complicated.

Of course, genetics aren’t the only factor that may contribute to insomnia.

You can think of certain genes as things that might make you more likely to get insomnia.

Your sex assigned at birth may also fall into this category —people assigned female at birth can be more likely to have insomnia than people assigned male at birth.

But other things can trigger insomnia and maintain it. For example, these conditions link to insomnia:

Stressboth emotional and physical — can also make it hard to sleep.

And simple environmental factors could be behind it, such as the temperature or noise levels in your bedroom, working patterns, and caffeine or drug intake.

If you are genetically more likely to get to insomnia, you may need to be more aware of things like good sleep hygiene.

So, try to get into a stable routine that involves going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time each day.

And when it’s time for bed, try to relax beforehand by dimming the lights and turning off devices.

You can also avoid consuming a lot of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco —particularly in the latter part of the day.

Finally, embarking on a generally healthy lifestyle that involves adequate physical exercise and stress reduction techniques may help.

Even if you do all of the above and more, it may not be possible to prevent insomnia.

Practicing good sleep hygiene is a treatment method for insomnia and a prevention technique.

You can try:

  • turning your bedroom into a calming space by optimizing the lighting and temperature and turning off electronic devices
  • going to sleep and waking up at the same time, even on weekends or if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep
  • avoiding stimulants, like caffeine, 6 hours before bedtime
  • exercising during the daytime to tire both your body and mind

Some people may need medication to help them sleep. But sleeping pills can become less effective the more people take them, and they have a whole host of potential side effects.

Speak with a doctor or another healthcare professional before buying over-the-counter sleeping aids.

A special form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is also an option and has been effective in multiple studies.

While there is currently a limited number of practitioners offering CBT-I, it can help you swap unhelpful thoughts and actions that impact your sleep for more helpful ones that promote a restful night.

It can take time and may involve many approaches.

But insomnia is curable in some cases.

In other, more complex cases, you can try to improve it by treating underlying conditions and making certain lifestyle changes.

The longer it goes on, the harder it is to treat. So, it’s always best to contact a doctor as soon as possible if you’re having a tough time with sleep.

Genes do appear to have some effect on your chance of getting insomnia. But it’s a complicated area to study, with lots left to uncover.

Even if you are genetically more likely to get insomnia, it doesn’t mean you will develop the condition. But it does mean that you may want to pay extra attention to practicing good sleep hygiene to reduce your risk.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.