Night Owls are Mutants, Study Finds

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-08 05:45

A mutation in the clock genes is what gives rise to night owls.

Think of it this way: your mutant superhero name is Night Owl, and your superpower is staying up later than everyone else. You may not be able to save the world, bring down an ancient mutant with god-like powers, or move things around with your mind. However, you do know where the best 24-hour diners are.

That's kind of a superpower, right?

Small Mutation, Big Effects

Our bodies have their own clocks.
[Photo by Fabrizzio Verrecchia]

So what makes night owls mutants? A nifty little thing called a biological clock regulates our body's daily cycles. It tells us when we should feel hungry, tired, sleepy, or hungry. It thus aids in regulating when we go to sleep and when we wake up.

If you fall asleep later in the night and wake up later in the day, it may be because of a mutation in CRY1 gene. This is the gene that can alter our biological clock. Basically, it genetically programs your biological clock to run more slowly than everyone else's. Instead of having a 24-hour run time, it has a 26-hour run time. It's like having jet lag every day. In the morning, the sun is up and things around you are hustling and bustling. You, however, struggle to keep up.

A single missing letter in CRY1's genetic instructions is to blame. This little change stops the gene from producing much of its protein, which is what inhibits the biological clock. The CRY1 protein becomes more active due to the mutation and prolongs the daily cycles of night owls.

Night Owls Don't Actually Have More Fun

Ever had to stay up super late for no reason other than your body just doesn't want to go to sleep?
[Photo by Xavier Sotomayor]

The official diagnosis for night owls who find it difficult to fall asleep and wake up earlier is delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD). Unfortunately, this disorder is no small thing. For one thing, it can cause depression and anxiety. Scientists also associate cardiovascular disease and diabetes to DSPD.

If you have DSPD, it may also be hard to fit into society. Most people begin their day not long after the sun rises. Thus, night owls may find it difficult to get enough rest before having to go to work or school. Not all people who stay up late have DSPD, however. You'd need genetic testing in order to find out if you have the disorder. There are other things that may disrupt daily cycles, and the disorder is only one of them.

However, just because some people are genetically destined to be night owls doesn't mean that they have to be. Fortunately, the CRY1 gene isn't the only thing that determines our biological clock. External and environmental factors can also have an impact on our biological clock and daily cycles. Even if you're a carrier of the gene mutation, you can have a normal sleep cycle. You can self-enforce a set time for falling asleep, for example. You can also arrange your bedroom in such a way that it lets in a lot of natural light in the morning to wake you up. It can be hard work, but you can make your slow biological clock conform to the 24-hour day.

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