This Night Owl Gene Mutation Turns People Into Sleep Martians

This Night Owl Gene Mutation Turns People Into Sleep Martians

Researchers have found a genetic mutation that turns people into Martians — at least when it comes to sleep patterns.

People with the mutation tend to be night owls because it keeps them on a perpetual 24 ½ hour schedule — close to the Martian 24 hour, 39 minute day, researchers reported in the journal Cell.

With their body clocks always running a little longer than everybody else’s, it’s like having perpetual jet lag, the researchers at the Rockefeller University report.

“Carriers of the mutation have longer days than the planet gives them, so they are essentially playing catch-up for their entire lives,” said Alina Patke, who headed up the research effort.

Related: Night Owls Are More Likely to be Jerks

About 1.2 percent of people carry one or two copies of the mutation, so it doesn’t explain why so many people are night owls. But it’s one of many known to change the body’s internal clock, the so-called circadian rhythm.

It’s one of several causes of delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD).

“It’s as if these people have perpetual jet lag, moving eastward every day,” said Michael Young, who oversaw the study. “In the morning, they’re not ready for the next day to arrive.”

“It’s as if these people have perpetual jet lag, moving eastward every day.”

The mutation is in a gene called CRY1 and when people have it, every cell in their body runs on the wrong time. They can end up being night owls but often, the effects are much more disruptive, Patke 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.”

Related: Cancer Hijacks Cells’ Internal Clocks

Circadian rhythm affects more than just sleep patterns. The people with the mutation also have disrupted cycles of body temperature, and Patke’s team wants to study other effects — such as the risks of various diseases.

The team found six Turkish families affected by the mutation. It didn’t matter whether people had one or two copies of the mutated gene, it affected circadian cycles in the same way.

Patke described the case of one 46-year-old American volunteer who stayed in her team’s sleep clinic for three weeks to be studied.

“Her internal clock is one closer to one from another planet.”

She stayed in a studio apartment with no outside cues about time — no windows, no clocks, no television or internet access.

“They didn’t know what time of day it was,” Patke said. “The idea was to see what they lived like when they were just controlled by their own clock.”

Related: Here’s Why Coffee Keeps You Up at Night

The volunteers, including the woman, didn’t sleep eight hours straight. Instead, she slept in fits and starts, although the normal sleep brain wave rhythms were typical, with the usual transitions into and out of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Left to their own natural devices, they had a 24 ½ hour daily schedule.

“Her internal clock is one closer to one from another planet,” Patke said.

That might help some people who want to work at NASA, Patke joked. “I remember reading that for people who control these Mars rovers at JPL (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,” she said.

NASA may even want to recruit people with the mutation to eventually travel to Mars, so they’d be less prone to the jet lag that will almost certainly affect Mars visitors.

Related: Teens Need to Sleep In

“Somebody who has that mutation might be well suited as a volunteer but there may be more factors that go into that,” Patke said.

Patke is herself a night owl and tested herself for the genetic mutation. She doesn’t have it.

Other genetic mutations almost certainly underlie tendencies to be morning larks or night owls. And there are ways to cope.

“An external cycle and good sleep hygiene can help force a slow-running clock to accommodate a 24-hour day,” Patke said. “We just have to work harder at it.”

Cats Are Actually Nice, Scientists Find

Cats Are Actually Nice, Scientists Find

Let me tell you about my handsome son, Mizue. He’s a cat. He cuddles up beside me and pushes his little furry head against me when he wants to be petted. He purrs and rubs up on everyone he meets. He’s the best dude, is what I’m saying here, and I am goddamn sick of people saying that cats aren’t nice.

But don’t take my word for it. Thanks to new research from Oregon State University, published on Friday in Behavioural Processes, there is scientific evidence that cats are, according to empirical study, nice. In fact, the study concluded, cats like interacting with humans more than they like eating food. Let that sink in: more than food. I don’t like anybody more than food.

The motivation for the study was to apply cognitive tests that have already be tried out on dogs and tortoises on cats, in order to clear up some misconceptions around cats’ bad reputation for being unsociable.

“Increasingly cat cognition research is providing evidence of their complex socio-cognitive and problem solving abilities,” the authors wrote in the paper. “Nonetheless, it is still common belief that cats are not especially sociable or trainable. This disconnect may be due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer, and thus may be most motivated to work for.”

The test took 50 cats both from people’s homes and from a shelter and deprived them of food, toys, and people for a few hours. Then, researchers presented the cats with different stimuli within four categories: human socialization, food, scent, and toys.

The researchers concluded that there were no significant differences between the homed and the shelter cats, and that most cats preferred human socialization to any of the other categories. Half of the cats preferred social interaction to every other stimulus type, while only 37 percent preferred food.

“While it has been suggested that cat sociality exists on a continuum, perhaps skewed toward independency,” the authors wrote, “we have found that 50% of cats tested preferred interaction with the social stimulus even though they had a direct choice between social interaction with a human and their other most preferred stimuli from the three other stimulus categories.”

So, what does this mean? Basically, that cats are nice. But, the authors write, individual cat preferences for socialization may be influenced by life history or even breed.

A study of a few dozen cats might not be grounds for concrete conclusions, but this rings true for me. My cat doesn’t spend every minute of the day with me when I’m around. More often than not, he’s skulking around or chilling out on a sofa. But he’s friendly with everybody and we have our moments. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to spend every waking moment with the person I live with, either. And for the people who think cats are standoffish—are you immediately open and friendly with random humans you meet?

Your cat loves you. Love it back.

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