The Mind-Blowing Discovery About How We Sleep Could Get Us to Mars

If you can’t fall asleep at night, or hit snooze as many times as you can in the morning, you have company. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in three adults don’t get enough sleep. This year’s winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine have new data that explains why that matters.

“As a nation we are not getting enough sleep,” said Wayne Giles, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing … devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”

Making those changes is easier said than done. What you might not realize is the complex interplay between chemicals, proteins, and our environment that tell us when to sleep and wake. Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young recently earned the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine for determining that clock genes are involved in our bodies’ ability to properly and adequately signal sleepiness and wakefulness.

What are clock genes?

US nobel prize medicine

US nobel prize medicine 2017 Nobel Prize Winner Michael Rosbash stands with fans after he addressed a news conference. | Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

The Genetic Literacy Project explained that a particular protein degrades during the day and accumulates at night. That allows for the physiological experience of alertness and sleepiness. The Nobel Prize award speech further detailed the findings. “Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.”

How important do these genes become in our everyday lives? Pretty central, it turns out. 

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