Experts Found The Key To Understanding Night Owls – And It’s All Down To Genetics

We’ve all been there. Tossing and turning all night. Rearranging the pillow. Sometimes, no matter how much you want it, sleep just won’t come. And some people are doomed to experience this more than others. Night owls operate differently to everyone else, regularly finding themselves unable to sleep at normal hours. Now, though, researchers think they might have cracked the reason why.

There’s actually a technical term to describe the state of an individual who can’t sleep at normal times. If a person’s unable to sleep until it gets really late – and consequently struggles to awaken early the next morning – they could suffer from delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). And this disorder can prove to be truly disruptive.

In essence, a person living with DSPS has trouble slipping off to sleep at a time most would consider ordinary. Instead, they’ll stay awake, or they’ll bypass the ordeal altogether by heading to bed much later. In either case, getting up the next morning will be more of a trial.

What’s more, DSPS contrasts with different types of sleeping disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea. You see, sufferers of the disorder might generally sleep really well – but only after they actually drift off. The issue is that their body clock is way off the mark. And having a high quality sleep doesn’t count for much when you don’t have enough of it.

Now, it’s said that DSPS can emerge in children, but generally speaking it’s first observed in teenagers. Of course, many teens have what their elders might consider to be unusual sleeping patterns. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re afflicted with delayed sleep phase syndrome, but a minority of them just might be.

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Amazingly, not every individual who has DSPS is disadvantaged by their disorder, though. People with jobs that require them to stay awake at night, for instance, might even find it beneficial. Other sufferers, however, can find that the condition has a negative effect on their personal relationships, education or career.

Geneticist Michael Young has elaborated on how sufferers who have the disorder might feel. Speaking in a press release, the scientist said, “It’s as if these people have perpetual jet lag, moving eastward every day. In the morning, they’re not ready for the next day to arrive.”

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Along with several others, Young has been trying to figure out exactly why certain people live with DSPS. And thanks to this group’s efforts, a theory has emerged to account for the disorder. Perhaps their work – which has been published in a journal called Cell – will go some way to helping sufferers.

Gaining a better understanding of DSPS is an important endeavor. After all, it seems that a substantial number of people are forced to live with the disorder. According to the Cleveland Clinic, in fact, somewhere between seven and 16 percent of all teenagers have it. And it affects grownups, too.

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Most importantly, a lack of sleep can actually be downright dangerous. If an overly tired person gets behind the wheel of a car, for example, we can easily imagine how bad things can potentially get. In fact, it’s been said that tiredness can alter a person’s ability to drive safely as much as alcohol can.

Other research has suggested that a lack of sleep can also make workplace accidents more likely. And if a sleepy person operates heavy machinery for their job, it’s clear to see how things could turn out. Furthermore, sleep-deprived employees are more inclined to experience repeated incidents of the same nature.

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Speaking more generally, we can say that sleep is essential for a person’s ability to comprehend ideas and to learn. If someone doesn’t get enough rest, though, their faculties will be compromised. As we’ve all experienced at one point or another, tiredness makes it difficult to concentrate and solve problems.

And on top of that, our memories might begin to suffer if we don’t manage to get enough sleep. That’s because the day’s events are “consolidated” after we’ve slipped into a slumber. To put it simply, this means that we’ll be able to access these episodes as memories later on.

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Worryingly, a lack of sufficient sleep can also lead to a worse state of mind. Indeed, some research has suggested a link between depression and a person’s inability to get enough rest. In fact, a survey in 2005 found that Americans who suffered from anxiety or depression tended to sleep for a shorter period than most.

Perhaps most surprisingly, a link has been noted between a lack of sleep and how much a person weighs. You see, if a person doesn’t rest sufficiently, this apparently causes an increase in their appetite. In fact, a 2004 study suggested that individuals that slept for under six hours daily were around 30 percent more inclined to be obese.

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Explaining why this might be, sleep expert Dr. Allison Siebern described the effect of certain hormones on a person’s appetite to WebMD. “Ghrelin stimulates hunger and leptin signals satiety to the brain and suppresses appetite,” she said. “Shortened sleep time is associated with decreases in leptin and elevations in ghrelin.”

Furthermore, Dr. Phil Gehrman, a sleep expert, said other problems can emerge through a lack of sleep. He told WebMD, “Over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation – they’ve gotten used to it. But if you look at how they do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point when we lose touch with how impaired we are.”

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So, we’ve demonstrated how important sleep is for our bodies and minds. But a further example lies in the Whitehall II Study, the findings of which were disclosed in 2007. Here, researchers looked at around 10,000 civil servants in Britain across 20 years or so. And they found that people not getting enough sleep were about two times more at risk of death from conditions such as cardiovascular disease than those who did.

It’s vital, then, that people get a good night’s sleep. And for those that don’t, it’s important that they address the reasons why. Hopefully, they can then overcome them and live more healthily. But what exactly might the reasons behind people not getting enough rest be? Well, several factors need to be considered.

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For one thing, individuals might simply be conditioned not to sleep as much as they need to. If you’re thinking about sleeping and yet you’re unable to actually do so, this could make you anxious. This in itself will then interfere with your ability to sleep. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Other health issues could also interfere severely in a person’s sleep cycle. If a person suffers from something like asthma or even mental health issues, then they might stay awake too late. Furthermore, it could be that something as simple as a common cold is to blame.

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A lack of sleep might even be the result of a person’s own bad habits. Yes, instead of switching off the lights and getting some shut-eye, they might opt to stay up to read or watch TV. Perhaps they might decide to go out and meet up with friends. All these things can add up and leave a person feeling tired the rest of the time.

And let’s not forget that consuming stimulants, like coffee, too late in the day is a troublemaker, too. Plus, if a person smokes, this can have an impact. To add to that, if a person’s bedroom has unfavorable conditions – like heat, bright lights or noise – then, low and behold, sleep is impacted.

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These days we shouldn’t underestimate specific light sources especially, given they’re a massive part of our lives. Electronic devices, for example, tend to give of blue wavelengths of light. Compared to other colors, blue light is said to particularly increase a person’s reactions and concentration. And while useful during the day, at night it’s troublesome.

Yes, light can severely impact the way our bodies function. Our circadian rhythms – which is a fancier term for our body clocks – can become disjointed as a result of light exposure at night. Before artificial lighting became a factor of life, this wasn’t particularly a problem. Now, though, total darkness is harder to come by.

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All the reasons discussed so far as to why a person might struggle to sleep are, in some way, obvious. A person who watches TV too late or who has an underlying health issue will naturally struggle to sleep as well as a person who doesn’t. However, a new study has suggested another factor entirely for people who can’t drift off at night. So night owls, get ready.

According to this piece of research, it’s all down to genetics. You see, the authors of the study have found that a specific gene can seemingly lead to a person experiencing an unusual body clock. This is the CRY1 gene, and if it’s subject to a mutation, then a person will typically fall asleep around two hours later than the rest of us.

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The lead author of the study was Alina Patke, who elaborated on its findings in a statement. She said, “Carriers of the mutation have longer days than the planet gives them, so they are essentially playing catch-up for their entire lives.” Amazingly, this research is the first to link genetics and delayed sleep phase disorder.

Funnily enough, the mutation in CRY1 essentially means that a person would run on a body clock more suited to Mars. You see, these people’s bodies are aligned to a roughly 24-and-a-half-hour day. This is pretty close to the length of a day on Mars, which stands at 24 hours and 39 minutes.

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As Young who supervised the study, pointed out, this is comparable to a person experiencing a constant level of jet lag. Essentially, individuals that have this mutated gene are always out of sync with the world around them. They just can’t sleep at a time that works.

And a person’s life can be impacted in more ways than one. Certainly, it can turn them into night owls that are incapable of falling asleep at an appropriate time. But the quality of the sleep can also take a knock.

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Lead author Patke explained more about how the nature of a person’s sleep can be affected to NBC News in April 2017. She said, “For some, it causes a fragmented sleep. They actually went to bed rather early. They only slept for about two hours. Then they took long naps throughout the day.”

In addition to all that, the CRY1 mutation can impact a person in more ways than just their sleeping cycle. The ability for an individual’s body to regulate its temperature can be compromised. And Patke and her colleagues also want to investigate other potential consequences, like whether or not it can be linked to the emergence of certain diseases.

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Speaking to NBC News about how the study was undertaken, Patke talked about a 46-year-old woman who was being observed. This lady was placed inside an apartment that cut her off from any sense of time. For instance, the place didn’t have any windows, and she couldn’t watch TV, log on to the internet, or check the time with a watch or clock.

Basically, these specific conditions left the woman without any real sense of orientation within the context of the day. As Patke put it, “They didn’t know what time of day it was. The idea was to see what they lived like when they were just controlled by their own clock.”

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And the researchers found that this lady was unable to sleep for eight hours in one go. Rather, she frequently woke up and fell back to sleep. Despite this, the brain waves that one would expect to see in a typical sleeping person were being emitted. It was just simply that this person’s natural sleeping cycle was set over the course of 24 and a half hours.

This can prove to be an awkward way of life here on Earth, but perhaps it would be useful further afield. As Patke pointed out to NBC, “I remember reading that for people who control these Mars rovers at [NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory], they have to work on a Mars sol [day] cycle. The rovers are only active when the Sun shines on Mars.”

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When people finally start undertaking manned missions to Mars, then perhaps the CRY1 mutation would be useful in astronauts. However, there might be much more to take into consideration. As Patke put it, “Somebody who has that mutation might be well suited as a [Mars mission] volunteer, but there may be more factors that go into that.”

It’s no surprise that Patke has taken such an interest in this subject. She is, after all, a night owl in her own right. As such, it was natural that she herself underwent testing in search of the CRY1 mutation. Yet the results showed that it wasn’t present. So, we can safely presume that there are other things keeping night owls awake, too.

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With that in mind, there are measures that carriers can take in an attempt to help them sleep better. It just requires a bit of effort. As Patke said in her statement, “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.”

If you are a night owl, you’ll probably be aware of how a nutritious breakfast can help make you feel bright as a button. And a favorite among those wanting a quick energy boost is, of course, oatmeal. As morning meals go, it’s totally on-trend at the moment, but is it really that good for you?

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These days everybody loves oatmeal. That’s not just our opinion, either; it’s a certifiable fact. Don’t believe us? Well, according to Zion Market Research, in 2016 the international oatmeal industry was worth approximately $2 billion – and will be valued at $2.5 billion in 2022. Part of the reason for this, the experts argue, is people’s current desire to lead healthy lifestyles. And when we think of oatmeal, we seemingly automatically equate it with good nutrition. But is this delicious breakfast staple really that great for you?

It certainly seems that the question is worth consideration – particularly as consumers in the U.S. are buying oats in droves. In fact, data released via Information Resources, Inc. stated that Americans forked out over $1.3 billion on oatmeal or hot cereal over the course of 2018. This figure also represents a 1.3 percent increase from the previous year. And that’s almost double the amount that was spent two decades ago.

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Yet anybody who’s traveled up the aisles of grocery stores knows that there are a number of different oatmeal varieties available from which to choose. The most common names that you’re likely to see in your local shop are, then, oat groats, rolled oats, steel-cut oats, instant oats and Scottish oats. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, each type serves a different purpose.

But don’t worry too much about the names. After all, each variety is derived from the same basic hulled oats. So why the different types? Well, it actually comes down to how much the grain has been processed. And the various health benefits or side effects will differ, of course, depending on which sort is your preference.

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It’s worth pointing out, though, that all kinds of oats need at least some form of processing. This is because you simply cannot consume them as they are when they’ve just been plucked from a farmer’s field. And the reason for this is fairly self-evident: unprocessed oats are surrounded by tough outer shells. That’s why the husks need to be removed prior to eating.

Once the shells have been taken away, then, you’re left with your oat groats. You can, of course, purchase whole oat groats from the grocery store to make your oatmeal in the morning. There’s a chance you won’t do that, however, as this variety takes longer to cook and can still maintain a notable fibrous consistency.

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And that extra cooking time is why other varieties of oats are subject to further processing. Take steel-cut oats, for example. As the name suggests, steel-cut oats have been – you guessed it – sliced into small sizes with a steel instrument. This procedure obviously makes the grains smaller and therefore easier to turn into oatmeal.

Another kind of processing, meanwhile, results in rolled oats. These are steamed and then squashed until level. And the rolled – or old-fashioned – oats are subsequently left to dry so that they can happily sit in your cupboard for extended periods of time. Again, this process also means that they don’t take as long to cook.

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There are, of course, two other kinds of oats: Scottish and instant. For the former, the oats are simply reduced to meal. And for the latter, you likely won’t be surprised to hear, the groats are put through a longer steaming and leveling process. In addition, they’re potentially even cooked a little, so that you can get oatmeal in a flash at home.

Yet while this level of understanding is certainly interesting, you shouldn’t be put off any one of kind of oats based on the processing that goes into it. After all, no matter which variety you choose, you’ll still be consuming whole grains. And on the balance of things, this means that the nutritional aspects of the oats are in fact roughly the same.

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You can also use any of these oat varieties to make your breakfast. Typically, this would involve cooking the oats in milk or water until you get the kind of consistency that you like. You can obviously also add all sorts of flavors and toppings to your oatmeal, including fruit, yogurt and nut butters. But we’re only concerned with the actual oatmeal here.

So, let’s deal with the good stuff first. After all, in 2018 Professor Shengmin Sang of A & T State University in North Carolina told Time magazine, “Based on the existing evidence, eating whole grain oats is definitely good for our health.” Specifically, Sang noted that oats can help keep diabetes and cholesterol levels in check.

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But why are oats so good for these particular health issues? Well, it’s partly down to beta-glucan fiber – something that the grain has in abundance. “Fiber is good for so many things throughout the digestive tract,” Minnesota University’s Professor Joanne Slavin, an expert in nutrition and food science, confirmed to Time magazine.

In fact, oats have significantly more beta-glucan fiber than many other grains. Which could explain why they are considered to be so beneficial for your gut. But how does it work? Well, according to Harvard’s The Nutrition Source website, this soluble fiber attracts cholesterol-stuffed bile acids and helps us to pass them.

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Of course, this has led to the consumption of oats being associated with lowering cholesterol levels. The Nutrition Source does state, however, that the evidence to support this is not so clear-cut. That’s because while some studies have indeed concluded that eating beta-glucan can decrease cholesterol, others have not declared particularly significant results.

Yet, as we’ve heard, beta-glucan is useful for a number of other reasons. For one thing, it helps to prevent your digestive system from working so quickly. This in turn means that the speed with which nutrients are processed by the body is also decreased. And so, eating oats won’t provide a quick hit of energy followed by a slump – like, say, snacking on a chocolate bar might.

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Plus, this wonderful fiber slows down digestion because it absorbs water on its way through your gut. This then makes the food that you’ve eaten thicker and more voluminous. And as well as resulting in the slow release of energy, the process can also allow you to feel fuller for longer.

It’s no doubt for this reason that oatmeal is often suggested as a good breakfast for those seeking to lose weight. In fact, there’s even a quick-fix fad out there known as the “oatmeal diet.” Practitioners are initially encouraged to eat nothing but oatmeal three times a day. But such a low-calorie, restrictive diet is not actually advised by experts – and could even be harmful.

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In any case, the point is that if oatmeal – as part of a healthy, balanced diet – slows down your digestion, it could leave you feeling more satisfied. This, in turn, makes you less likely to eat unhealthy snacks throughout the day. And that’s why the grain can be helpful in controlling waist lines across the world.

There are other healthy benefits to consuming oatmeal as well. First and foremost among these is its ability to aid in the fight against diabetes. This could be particularly good news, considering that the CDC announced in 2017 that over 100 million U.S. citizens could currently have diabetes or be pre-diabetic.

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The CDC also advised that of the 30 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, around 27 million of them suffer with type 2 diabetes. And that particular form of the condition means that the sufferer’s body can’t cope well with glucose, which is a kind of sugar. So, someone with type 2 diabetes needs to be wary of foods that could quickly increase their blood sugar levels.

Of course, some foods with large amounts of sugar are easy to spot. These could include, say, white chocolate, candy, cakes or desserts. But sufferers may also need to watch out for the naturally occurring sugars in dairy, veg and fruit. And then there is also the possibility of having to watch out for carbohydrate-rich foods that have high glycemic loads.

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What is a glycemic load, you ask? Essentially, it lets you know how fast the portion of carbohydrates in your food will spike your blood sugar levels. So foods with high glycemic loads will boost those levels very quickly, while foods with low glycemic loads will be more gentle. And this is where oats come in.

So while all kinds of oats are packed with carbohydrates, steel-cut oats have a relatively low glycemic load. This means that even those suffering from diabetes can likely consume them because the beta-glucan fiber just might stop those spikes in blood glucose levels. The Nutrition Source website, however, advises against eating instant oats.

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This could be particularly welcome news for those with type 2 diabetes. That’s because the condition – which can be extremely serious – can in some cases be reversible through careful diet and work out regimes. It’s always worth consulting a medical professional before undertaking any lifestyle changes, mind you.

There are a couple of other noteworthy oat-related benefits, too. And the first is likely evident for anyone who has been paying attention. That is to say that oats are good for your gut. In fact, The Nutrition Source states that consuming oats regularly will probably help you to poop easier than ever before.

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This is due to the oats’ high fiber content, which is reportedly even better than that found in vegetables or fruit. And what’s more, oats’ beta-glucans could improve the microbial population of your digestive system – which, believe it or not, is very a good thing. But it’s not just the inside of your body that can be improved by the consumption of oats.

You see, the final benefit that we’ll discuss here concerns a pair of chemicals that are found within the oats. These are known as phytoestrogens and phenolic compounds. And while these words seem pretty science-y and hard to pronounce, they may actually help you to improve the appearance of your skin.

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Specifically, these plant chemicals may work to decrease organ inflammation that could reoccur due to conditions such as diabetes. And according to SFGate, a 2013 study suggested that oats may also fight the signs of aging on the skin. So, as you can see, consuming oats has a wealth of potential health benefits. But is the food purely a force for good?

Well, as you can probably tell, the evidence is all for a resounding yes to this question. But it’s worth bearing in mind that there are a few provisos to the above advice. So before you head down to the oats aisle of your local grocery store, read on for some sage oatmeal-perfection suggestions.

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Of particular concern to those who are sensitive to gluten is the possibility of the substance contaminating their oats. On their own, the whole grains are, of course, naturally free from gluten. But as researcher Ronald Fritz told Time magazine, there is always the chance that they could be befouled with the substance during the journey from field to spoon.

Fritz clarified, “Oats can be contaminated with gluten containing kernels of wheat, barley and rye at the field during storage or during transportation.” Why should this matter? Well, for the 1 percent of people suffering from celiac disease, consumption of gluten is very bad news for their guts. But those with gluten sensitivities could also be affected.

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That’s because those with non-celiac sensitivities can still suffer from grievances of the gut immediately after eating gluten. It seems as though scientists don’t truly understand how this works, but it is clear that it can be uncomfortable for those with the condition. There’s also one other thing to take into consideration when selecting oats.

And that is how you prepare them prior to consumption. It sounds obvious, but the health benefits outlined previously will all come to nothing if you then pile your oatmeal high with sugars or various other additives. And for the experts, it seems to be the instant-oat varieties that are the worst culprits.

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For instance, The Independent reported a shocking statistic in 2017. It said that a single pot of Quaker Oats So Simple’s golden syrup instant porridge – available in the U.K. – contained more than four teaspoons of added sugar. Unbelievably, that equates to over 50 percent of an adult’s recommended day-to-day quota of sugar intake.

As we’ve seen, too, this increased sugar would certainly not be a good thing for anyone suffering with, or predisposed to, type 2 diabetes. But being cautious with your choices can combat this easily. For instance, the “original” flavor of Quaker’s instant oatmeal range contains no added sugar at all.

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Another method of keeping your sugar consumption in check is simply preparing your oatmeal at home from scratch. This is normally quick and pretty straight-forward, and there is no shortage of oatmeal ideas available online. So here we’ll just outline two popular ways of making healthy, balanced breakfasts with everyday ingredients.

The first is using the instructions on the packet of your chosen (sugar-free) oats to prepare the oatmeal, usually using milk or water or a combination of the two. And then, once the oats are done, you can incorporate healthy extras such as fruit, seeds or nuts. For rolled oats, this will take around five minutes. Steel-cuts oats will take longer and instant oats will be done in no time at all.

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But if this still sounds like too much work, you can always go down the overnight oats route. This involves simply popping your oats, chosen liquid and additional extras together in a jar, bowl or other container the night before you want to eat your oatmeal. Then mix and cover your serving and pop it into the fridge until morning. Just be aware that you can’t use instant oats for this method.

So is oatmeal a good breakfast that you can eat every day? The short answer is, of course, yes. Whether you choose instant, steel-cut or rolled, oats offer a myriad of health benefits that are difficult to argue against. The only things to be wary of are gluten contamination and added sugar.

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