Do You Have the Genetic “Night Owl” Variant?

Do you struggle falling asleep—and wonder why you have so much more trouble than other people?

Maybe you are a night owl; and not that proverbial image of a person who simply never sleeps, but an actual, genetic night owl.

Researchers out of Rockefeller University report they have discovered a genetic variant of the CRY1 gene which actually slows the internal biological clock. This “clock” controls the circadian rhythms, which are the somatic mechanisms within all living creatures that controls patterns in response to daylight, seasons, etc. Circadian rhythms help you to sleep during the night and think clearly during the day.

This genetic variant, then, is considered a dominant mutation, which means that if you have just one copy of this gene it can result in a sleeping disorder. People who have this “night owl” genetic variant, then, seem to have longer circadian cycles than most people, and it is this lengthening of the cycle that allows night owls to stay awake later.

According to Rockefeller Laboratory of Genetics head, Michael Young, “Compared to other mutations that have been linked to sleep disorders in just single families worldwide, this is a fairly impactful genetic change.”
The Richard and Jeanne Fisher, and senior study author, Michael Young also notes that as many as 75 people in some populations around the country can have this mutation; an indefinite minority group.

Those who consider themselves as part of this category are often diagnosed by a physician with delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD). This means that their 24-hour sleep/wake cycle is delayed, which means they continue to have energy long after most people have grown weary and fallen asleep. Data shows that people who have DSPD are typically forced to wake up before their bodies inform their brain that it is time—just to make it school on time, or to work—which can then lead to insomnia at early evening hours as well as fatigue throughout the day.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, then, that somewhere between 50 and 70 million adults in the US have some kind of wakefulness disorder—with a range of insomnia to narcolepsy—which can, then, predispose people to other chronic diseases which can include things like obesity, diabetes, and depression.

Here is a list of recommended sleep duration per age group as described by the US CDC:
• Newborns (to 3 months): 14-17 hours
• Infant (4 to 12 months): 12-16 hours
• Toddler (one to two years old): 11-14 hours
• Preschool (3 to 5 years old): 10-13 hours
• School age (6 to 12 years old): 9-12 hours
• Teenager (13 to 18 years old): 8-10 hours
• Adult (18 to 60 years old): at least 7 hours