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The Genetics of Being a “Morning Person”

Genes Mentioned
Some people jump out of bed every morning ready to start the day. Some other names come to mind when they’re not around, but at least to their faces, we call them “morning people.” Just kidding, I love morning people, I am one. For others though, getting out of bed can be tough, like scaling Everest tough. Especially when the weather turns cold, no one likes leaving the warmth of their cozy sheets and head to work. I haven’t always been a morning person. When I was a kid, I would lie half conscious in bed, after my Mom “woke me up,” dreaming that my bed would grow wheels and an engine, so I could attend classes under the covers. Never happened, but it was a nice fantasy. However, kidding aside, we all know someone who has extra trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. No matter how much sleep they get, they’re always a little groggy. They are definitely not morning people. For these folks, the inability to wake up can be an issue that hinders work performance, and may even cause regular tardiness. Other than having had a few too many drinks the night before, is there a scientific reason why certain people always seem to be groggy first thing in the morning?

Genetics could be to blame for your morning grogginess

As it turns out, there are genetic variants associated with an inability to “get up and at em'” first thing in the morning. The ADA gene is responsible for metabolizing adenosine, and enzyme long thought to be associated with sleep. Most of the research surrounding adenosine has been related to caffeine. Caffeine keeps us awake because it blocks our adenosine receptors.1 Your body produces adenosine as it burns ATP, the body’s main energy currency. As your ATP levels decrease, Your levels of adenosine increase, until they peak at bedtime. As you sleep, your body then gets to work metabolizing adenosine, until your levels are low again when it’s time to wake up.2 That’s how it works for most people, but not for people with a “mutation” in their ADA genes.

Adenosine metabolism varies based on genotype

As the chart below demonstrates, the G allele is the common allele for most people, and denotes “normal” clearing of adenosine through the course of the night. However, the A allele (ADA G22A the “grogginess gene”), which is listed here as “risk,” shows a slow down in clearing adenosine from the body. The G allele carriers have their cleared all their adenosine by the time the alarm goes off, and are ready to start the day. By contrast, the A carriers still have high levels of adenosine in their bodies when it’s time to wake up, making it that much harder to get moving.
Protein Gene SNP Id Major Allele/Minor Allele (Risk) Effect
ADA ADA rs73598374 G/A G (Asp) > A (Asn) A associated with 35% reduction in ADA activity. Adenosine is not converted as efficiently and so not cleared by morning. (R) Leads to feeling of sleepiness, impaired attention, and vigor. (R) However, quality of deep sleep improved. (R)
Carriers of the ADA G22A polymorphism (A variant) can fall asleep normally, and get deep rest, but they have such high levels of adenosine that they’re unable to wake up as quickly. Although those carrying the “grogginess gene” have a tougher time waking up, they also sleep better, and can still get good sleep after consuming caffeine, as this study demonstrates. Perhaps a little extra adenosine in the mornings isn’t such a bad thing. For a comprehensive assessment of your sleep genes and sleep chronotype, take a look at our custom nutrition plan product.

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Dr. Aaron Gardner, BSc, MRes, PhD

Dr. Aaron Gardner, BSc, MRes, PhD is a life-scientist with a strong background in genetics and medical research, and the developing fields of personalized medicine and nutrition. Read his full bio here.

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3 Comments

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  1. Jay says:

    Hi John
    Interesting article and at 38 its the first time I hear about this connection. I struggle with the exact same thing and it made my life miserable especially so far especially not knowing what’s going on. If you have any suggestions to alter or change the way this gene behaves let me know. Thanks

  2. Haley B. says:

    Hi,
    I would like some guidance as to where I can find more information about this. For years I have struggled with completing simple functions in life. I get plenty of sleep at night and most nights, it’s deep sleep, but no matter how much sleep I get I am constantly tired and caffeine does nothing to help. I’ve tried other things like diet and exercise as well but lately, it’s seemed to get worse and I’m seeking answers. Any guidance is appreciated.

    Thank you!

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