Sleep Habits

Your DNA Might Determine If You're an Early Bird or a Night Owl

Your DNA Might Determine If You're an Early Bird or a Night Owl
Image credit: Navy_NADAP | Flickr

Of all of the things that divide people in this world, one of the most dissected is the chasm between the early risers and the night owls. While there are no shortage of studies that attempt to show the benefit of one side versus the other -- morning people are productive and night people are geniuses. apparently  -- a new study shows that your circadian rhythms might be dictated by your DNA.

After observing fruit flies, geneticists from the University of Leicester in England noticed that some of the insects opened their pupal cases in the morning hours while others broke through the encasements in the evenings. In examining the blood of the flies in each group, they discovered close to 80 genes that “show substantial difference in their expression,” which might influence which part of a 24-hour period the insects prefer.

Related: Sleep: Why Successful Entrepreneurs Snooze More and Work Less

What do the preferences of flies have to do with the habits of humans? Surprisingly, the genetic system between people and fruit flies are similar -- so much so that “there is a good chance that some of the genes we have identified in flies would be also important for ... humans,” said Dr. Eran Tauber, a researcher who coauthored a paper the experiment. The paper was published earlier this month in Frontiers of Neurology.

While researchers had previously thought that the body had its own clock, the findings from this experiment suggest that the body derives cues about time from interacting with the environment. “This changes our view of the body clock from a pacemaker ... to a time reference system,” said Ezio Rosato, the lead investigator in the study.

In a press release published yesterday, Tauber explained that modern life -- much of which is spent indoors -- means people are no longer susceptible to differences in light and temperature that would signal the time of day to our bodies. Our days often start before our body clock is ready, due to work demands or social calls.

The difference between the body’s natural rhythm and the necessary rhythms of modern life can lead to sleep disorders and other health problems, such as obesity, mental illness or cancer. Entrepreneurs know this as well as anyone.

Therefore, a better understanding of how individuals personally interpret time can lead to “better diagnostics, and ultimately personal medicine, where larks and owls will receive their tailored therapies,” Tauber said.  

Related: This 'Smartpillow' Helps You Sleep Better So You Don't Need to Sleep Longer

Edition: November 2016

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