Being a ‘Night Owl’ Could be a Genetic Problem

A new study has shown that there could be a genetic mutation which changes the human circadian clock (this controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy) and makes people become ‘night owls’.


Night owl behaviour is known to be seen by people who stay up late at night and struggle waking up in the morning. It is diagnosed by sleep clinicians as ‘delayed sleep phrase disorder’ or DSPD for short, and it has also been linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and diabetes.

The research was led by Michael Young, Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and head of the Laboratory of Genetics at The Rockefeller University in New York who worked with his team to claim that the CRY1 gene could undergo a mutation changes our ‘internal clock’ that makes our body realise when it is time to sleep. This usually happens through our circadian rhythm that follows a 24 hour cycle responding to the amount of light and darkness in the environment – this is how it is decided when it is time to sleep. However, the colleagues have managed to find that carriers of the genetic mutation in the CRY1 gene (that changes the genetic code of only one letter) had irregular sleeping patterns.

Alina Patke, a research associate in the laboratory of principal investigator Young said this:

“Carriers of the mutation have longer days than the planet gives them, so they are essentially playing catch-up for their entire lives,”


“It is as if these people have perpetual jet lag moving eastward every day, in the morning, they are not ready for the next day to arrive.”


“An external cycle and good sleep hygiene can help force a slow-running clock to accommodate a 24-hour day, we just have to work harder at it.”


This discovery has managed to shed some light on the behaviour of the ‘night owls’ in our society and fortunately, it doesn’t affect them permanently. As Patke said, the effects of the mutation can be fixed though strict sleeping routines thus allowing people to be able to be ready for the  day ahead again.

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