Then there’s the rest of us. Those of us who routinely try absolutely everything to get to sleep at a decent hour, up to and including counting sheep for a restless mind, and going for a midnight jog to wear out a restless body. These are the unfortunates who are merely pretending to be awake for the first four hours of everyday, who go through a daily battle of wills with themselves just to get their feet on the floor in the first place. I have a friend who’s told me that they feel incredibly depressed on waking up every day, at the thought of having to leave their cosy bed.
These night crawlers are also usually a lot more awake at midnight than the early birds they are so jealous of. They often have more energy late at night than they’ve had throughout the day, and seem to somehow get by on four hours sleep, although they’d tell you that ‘getting by’ is just what it looks like – in fact night crawlers often feel terrible throughout most of their waking hours.
Well, although science doesn’t seem to have a miracle cure for night owl syndrome, it seems that the condition is buried in the genes of an unlucky few – up to 1 in 75 of us apparently. Your sleeplessness could come down to a mutation in the CRY1 gene, which means you have a longer circadian cycle than most, according to a recent study appearing in Cell.
Everybody has a ticking circadian clock (or circadian oscillator), controlling when you feel sleepy, and when you feel most awake. It’s based of course on the 24-hour night/day cycle, and attunes our bodies to get sleep when it’s dark.
In those people who routinely find themselves wide awake during the single digit hours, the sleep cycle is out of sync with everybody else’s, which makes their bodies think it’s time for action much earlier, leaving them tired during the day, and wide awake late at night.
Of course, lots of other factors can cause you to miss out on sleep, like caffeine intake, how much exercise you do, and your routine before you get horizontal – so don’t be too quick to blame your poor genes.