Dr. Saxena studies the genetics of circadian rhythms and sleep disorders and their association with common diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Richa Saxena, PhD
Richa Saxena, PhD
Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport MGH Research Scholar 2017-2022
Principal Investigator, Center for Genomic Medicine
Associate Professor of Anesthesia, Harvard Medical School

My work focuses on understanding genetic differences that determine people’s daily behavioral rhythms and sleep patterns, and how these differences are linked with neurologic, neuropsychiatric and metabolic disease.

We are studying how a genetic change in the receptor for melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles, can influence blood sugar control in shift workers and late-night eaters.

We have also identified genetic differences that determine we are night owls or larks, and differences that contribute to sleep disorders such as insomnia and daytime sleepiness.

Our results suggest that both circadian rhythm and sleep traits share genes and pathways with psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia, depression and autism, and metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

We also know that many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, disrupt sleep patterns.

Our goal is to identify new therapies for sleep disorders, and to identify where interventions that target sleep or circadian rhythms could be used to prevent or delay human disease.