We live at a time where material abundance is overflowing. If our ancestors from even a few centuries ago could see us today, they would be amazed by how many new “things”, “toys and gadgets,” and various forms of entertainment we now have at our disposal. Any yet, people today are not happier than a few hundred years ago. The prevalence of depression today is much higher (some say 100 times) than just a hundred years ago. Why? You might ask. Hmm, here is another mystery for today’s society. Sure, we know that mood dysregulation is due to imbalance of brain neurotransmitters. But, what cause this imbalance? Why are some people more susceptible than others? Why does depression seem to also frequently “run in the family”? And, why more now than before?
A potential clue for us is that a majority of people who suffer from depression also experience complaints about their sleep habits. They either cannot fall in sleep or they feel sleepy all the time. Interestingly, bright light treatment is sometimes helpful for depressed people. Therefore, sleep has long been thought to have close connections with our mood regulation. However, despite the long search for genetic causes of mood dysregulation, they have remained largely elusive.
In our study of sleep regulation, we found that some of our participants with unusual sleep patterns also have interestingly unusual mood patterns. Could it be that these people carry rare mutations that confer both unusual sleep and mood? Therefore, can we then use the mutations that we find for sleep regulation to study mood regulation? This is an area of intense interest for us and we hope to share our findings soon!