Scientists have discovered the first gene involved in regulating the optimal length of human sleep, offering a window to understanding a key aspect of slumber. The team, reporting in the 14 August 2009 issue of Science, has identified a mutated gene that allows two members of an extended family to thrive on six hours of sleep a day only. Most studies suggest that humans need eight to eight-and-a-half hours of sleep everyday to maintain optimal health. Carrying forward this discovery, the scientists genetically engineered mice and fruit flies to express the mutated gene and have its impact on them studied. They compared how the genetically engineered mice and normal mice responded to six hours of sleep deprivation. The study found that the engineered mice needed to compensate for their lost sleep to a much less extent than did their counterparts whose genes had not been tampered with.
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The sleep requirement of mammals varies greatly. While donkeys can do with as little as just three hours, armadillos can snooze for up to 20 hours a day