Is it difficult for you to get out of bed early in the morning but find it almost natural to pull an all-nighter? Latest studies suggest a gene mutation is to blame.

The 'Night Owl' Gene

Researchers at The Rockefeller University have found that a specific variant of the CRY1 gene impedes the body's biological clock, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm that regulates when a person should feel tired, sleepy, hungry, or awake.

People with the "night owl" gene appeared with a much longer circadian cycle, compared with those without, allowing them to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning.

"Compared to other mutations that have been linked to sleep disorders in just single families worldwide, this is a fairly impactful genetic change," said Michael W. Young, one of the lead study authors and the head of Rockefeller's Laboratory of Genetics.

According to their findings, this intriguing genetic mutation may be present in up to one in 75 people in some populations.

What Is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder?

They also identified that the CRY1 mutation was common among subjects with delayed sleep phase disorder or DSPD, which is a condition where one wakes up and finds sleep at a time way beyond what's normal for other people.

DSPD can lead to sleep deprivation and can reach a point where it hinders the person from performing everyday activities, especially in school and work during the day. It is responsible for 10 percent of all chronic insomnia cases.

Interestingly, the Rockefeller researchers also discovered that the night owl gene in one DSPD patient was shared by at least five members of his family who all suffer from sleep problems.

"Carriers of the mutation have longer days than the planet gives them, so they are essentially playing catch-up for their entire lives," Alina Patke, one of the study authors, explained.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

While many people take pride in their special ability to function with only a few hours of sleep, there's no denying that sleep deprivation does the body more harm than good.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a list of recommended hours of sleep per day for different age groups:

• Newborn (zero to three months) — 14 to 17 hours
• Infant (four to 12 months) — 12 to 16 hours, including nap time
• Toddler (one to two years old) — 11 to 14 hours, including nap time
• Preschool (three to five years old) — 10 to 13 hours, including nap time
• School age (six to 12 years old) — nine to 12 hours
• Teenager (13 to 18 years old) — eight to 10 hours
• Adult (18 to 60 years old) — seven or more hours

The CDC has also stressed the importance of sleep to a person's health and well-being and has linked insufficient sleep to several chronic conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

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