Night Owl? Scientists Identify a Gene That May Be Keeping People Up at Night – By Veronique Greenwood on July 7, 2017

A mutation found in some individuals who suffer from delayed sleep phase disorder could be interfering with their circadian clocks

Credit: Thomas Fuchs

Some people, no matter what they do, simply cannot fall asleep until the wee hours—and do not feel rested unless they get up much later than most of us. These night owls may have a common form of insomnia called delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), which studies have suggested is at least partly heritable. Now researchers at the Rockefeller University and their colleagues have uncovered a genetic mutation that may explain why this condition sometimes runs in families. And it could elucidate the mechanism that causes these often awkward sleep schedules.

Of course, DSPD is not a problem for everyone who has it: if you work as a bartender or a musician, you might never seek a diagnosis or treatment, says lead study author Alina Patke, a sleep researcher at Rockefeller, who self-identifies as a night owl but does not have the mutation. Yet for others, especially college students or nine-to-five office workers, the condition can be torture. The new study centered on a 46-year-old female subject with lifelong sleep problems. “Typically she would go to bed at 2 or 3 A.M., sometimes as late as 5 or 6,” Patke says.

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