As adults, we need seven or more hours of sleep each night for the best health and well-being. However, many people have problems sleeping — whether falling asleep, staying asleep or just simply sleeping well. And new research indicates it's a problem we may be born with.

According to the American Sleep Association, 50-70 million adults in the United States have a sleep disorder. Insomnia is the most common specific sleep disorder. In 2008, approximately 28 percent of surveyed adults in the U.S. reported frequent insufficient sleep (14 or more days in the past 30 days), which has been associated with poor general health, frequent mental and physical distress, depressive symptoms, anxiety and pain.

Not being able to sleep well can be frustrating. Different sleep issues may require different solutions, whether avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening, avoiding TV and computer screens at bedtime, resetting your internal clock to gradually modulate exposure to light or even resorting to sleep medications.

Living in a 24/7 society often adds to the challenge of getting enough sleep because there are more opportunities to stay awake, such as watching 24-hour cable TV, browsing the Internet, emailing friends or colleagues, or working longer shifts.

But now, researchers are exploring specific genes that may trigger the development of sleep problems as well as demonstrating a genetic link between insomnia, psychiatric disorders or physical conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes.

Studies had previously shown a heritable basis for various sleep-related traits, including insomnia, but robust genetic risk variants have just recently begun to be identified. In a new study, Murray Stein M.D., MPH, FRCPC, of the University of California San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System, and his colleagues conducted genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of soldiers in the Army Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (STARRS).

GWAS were carried out separately for each ancestral group (European, African, Latino) using logistic regression for each of the STARRS component studies (including 3,237 cases and 14,414 controls), and then meta-analysis was conducted across studies and ancestral groups. Data from soldiers of European, African and Latino descent were grouped separately as part of efforts to identify the influence of specific ancestral lineages.

A meta-analysis including three ancestral groups and three study cohorts revealed a genome-wide significant locus and a genome-wide significant gene-based association in Europeans. Polygenic risk for sleeplessness/insomnia severity in the UK Biobank was significantly positively associated with likelihood of insomnia disorder in STARRS.

The study confirms that insomnia has a partially heritable basis. The researchers also found a strong genetic link between insomnia and Type 2 diabetes among participants of European descent and noted a genetic tie between sleeplessness and major depression, all of which could be critical for the development of new treatments.