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Scientists discover a common genetic mutation responsible for “night owl” sleep disorders.

The Night Owl Syndrome

We all know somebody who describes themselves as a “night owl,” or “not a morning person.” It turns out that there might be a genetic driver behind that. Research coming from UC Santa Cruz has shown the mechanism by which a gene variant (first identified in 2017) is responsible for throwing off the timing of the biological clock. 

People with this genetic trait tend to have a hard time falling asleep, often staying awake past 2am, according to the research. Not surprisingly, this group also has a hard time getting going in the morning. This disregulation is a common sleep disorder called “delayed sleep phase disorder.”

The study was published in the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and builds on the initial discovery of this genetic mutation by showing the actual molecular mechanisms involved. In the words of  Carrie Partch, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz, and one or the study’s authors:

"this mutation has dramatic effects on people's sleep patterns, so it's exciting to identify a concrete mechanism in the biological clock that links the biochemistry of this protein to the control of human sleep behavior," 

Why is this relevant?

If you yourself are a “night owl,” does that mean you have this genetic variant? Not necessarily. Sleep behavior is complex and influenced by many factors other than genetics, which makes them tricky to diagnose. What makes this particular discovery more relevant, however, is just how common this gene variant is. 

Links between genetic variants and sleep disorders have been established in the past. However, most of these variants have been very rare. But the genetic variant that this study focused on was found in about 1 in 75 people of European descent.

What comes next?

Dr. Partch and her team have spent years studying the behavior of the four clock proteins that regulate our internal 24-hour cycle. Now that they understand the mechanism by which this genetic variant affects the circadian clock, researchers can better predict the types of molecules they need to identify to develop a therapeutic solution. 

What you can do?

While no cure for this sleep disorder exists yet, knowing if you have this variant might be helpful if you are trying to improve your sleep quality and have a hard time falling asleep. Now we know s DNA test can tell you.  We believe that knowledge is generally the best starting point to improvement, and at the very least, it would help you better understand your body and your nature!

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