Are you an early bird or a night owl? If you hate mornings and you like staying up late, then you’re a night owl. There are many people who stay up very late in the night and later find it almost impossible to wake up in time to get to work. If you are one of them, then you know how difficult life can be.
Researchers have determined that being a night owl can be blamed on your genes. There is a variant of the gene CRY1 slows the internal biological clock—called the circadian clock—that normally dictates when you feel sleepy each night and when you’re ready to wake. People with the “night owl” variant of this gene have a longer circadian cycle than most, making them stay awake later
Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS), is a neurological sleep disorder in which a person’s sleep/wake cycle is delayed with respect to the external day/night cycle. The person is unable to fall asleep until the wee hours, typically somewhere between 2 am and 6am, and sleeps correspondingly longer in the daytime, often well into the afternoon. Night owls are often diagnosed with delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD).
Researchers at The Rockefeller University have studied a large group of people who suffer from the Night Owl Syndrome. It is estimated that as many as 50-70 million adults in the US have a sleep or wakefulness disorder. These condition range ranging from insomnia to narcolepsy and can predispose people to chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, and depression.
Researchers say that the gene mutation may be present in as many as one in 75 people in some populations.
“Compared to other mutations that have been linked to sleep disorders in just single families worldwide, this is a fairly impactful genetic change,” says senior author Michael W. Young, the Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Genetics.
The researchers say that right now there’s no established benefit for DSPD patients in being tested for the CRY1 mutation.
“Just finding the cause doesn’t immediately fix the problem,” says Patke. “But it’s not inconceivable that one might develop drugs in the future based on this mechanism.”
For now, many DSPD patients are able to control their sleep cycles—and get to bed earlier than their body wants—by following strict schedules.
“It’s a bit like cigarette smoking in that there are things we can do to help the problem before turning to drugs,” says Young. Some patients seem to be helped by getting strong light exposure during the day, he adds.
So, if you suffer from the Night Owl Syndrome, at least you know the problem is not your lifestyle, but the cause is in your genes.
The amount of sleep one gets is very important, but let’s not forget that some of the world’s most brilliant minds had very odd sleep routines and rarely slept at all. One of them was genius Nikola Tesla who never slept more than two hours a day!