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Sleep disorders can be caused by many things. However, many sleep disorders that commonly run in families, or that may have a genetic component. A tendency to develop certain sleep disorders may be hereditary, but the sleep disorders that run in families may also be symptoms of other hereditary conditions or tendencies.

Some sleep disorders can also have other, non-hereditary, causes.

Sleep disorders with genetic causes:

When sleeplessness runs in the family…

Insomnia can vary dramatically in severity. It can be chronic or acute condition and be caused by many factors – from anxiety and depression to diet. However, it is known to run in families. On a case-by-case basis, it can be argued whether insomnia is 100% genetic (hereditary) in nature, or whether genetics simply play a role in making people more susceptible to developing insomnia in response to other triggers.

Fatal Familial Insomnia
This is an extremely rare sleep disorder that is unquestionably hereditary, thankfully affecting just a handful of families worldwide. Fatal Familial Insomnia is always fatal – hence the name. Symptoms usually appear around middle age.
It is characterised by an inability to achieve a state of deep sleep for a prolonged time period, or even fall asleep at all. This results in a range of physical and psychological dysfunctions that progress in severity until death occurs – around 18 months to two years after the first symptoms appear.

Other hereditary sleep disorders:

Sleepwalking – on its own, or as a symptom of another sleep disorder – is thought to run in families.

Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis – when the sufferer’s muscles lock up during sleep, is almost certainly 100% familial.
Like many other sleep disorders, sleepwalking and sleep paralysis can be chronic or comprise a few isolated instances. It can also manifest in a range of sleepwalker behaviours, and may affect individual family members very differently, if at all.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
There are two kinds of this sleep disorder. One RLS is 100% hereditary and the other is always caused by other factors.

Other heritable sleep disorders include:

  • Sleep Apnea
  • Narcolepsy
  • Excessive sleepiness, and
  • Hypersomnia