For years now, Sehgal and many other sleep researchers say, they’ve been hearing updates on the team’s progress at meetings. Sleep is so crucial to survival that the ancestors of every sleeping creature alive today risked death to do it daily. A mutant fly strain that starts out with a severe sleep abnormality will evolve over the generations to sleep more and more normally as time goes on, Sehgal said. “There is not something called a ‘sleep gene,'” said Divya Sitaraman, a sleep researcher at the University of San Diego. Still, as work in animal models has continued to churn out these sleep-related genes, the collection of genes linked to sleep in humans has been kicked up a notch. That’s likely the redundancy of sleep raising its head again – almost no genes are so strongly connected to sleep that their influence can rise above the noise.
Yes, sleep research is an old field, she said, “But it was pretty descriptive. I think it’s a really exciting time in sleep research right now, because we’re able to move from that very descriptive, poetic style to a mechanistic one.”