Sleep science earns three Americans the Nobel Prize in Medicine

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Sleep science earns three Americans Nobel Prize in Medicine

Three American scientists have won the Noble Prize in Medicine for their research on the human body’s biological clock. The trio’s work has greatly changed what we know about sleep.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg has more.

If you’ve ever wondered why you’re tired after a late night at work, or a long trans-Pacific flight, the answer might have just become a bit more clear.

Three American scientists researching the circadian rhythm – more commonly known as the body’s biological clock – have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The prize was awarded for their work isolating the gene that controls our internal clocks, and for confirming that there are indeed clocks – plural – in each cell in each of us.

All three said on Monday they were surprised when the committee in Stockholm informed them of the decision.

“I really had trouble even getting my shoes on this morning,” Michael Young said. “I go and I’d pick up the shoes, and then I’d realize I need the socks and then I realize I need to put my pants on first.”

“The phone call at 5:10 AM this morning destroyed my circadian rhythm by waking me up,” according to Michael Rosbash.

The trio proved that a key protein – known as PER, or period – accumulates at night, and then degrades during the day in a 24-hour cycle. Disrupting that pattern, they said, has consequences. Not just for sleep, but for things like depression and heart disease.

“The clock – the mechanism that we discovered – governs at least half of all expression in the human body,” Rosbash said.

Their research took decades and focused on fruit flies. But they say the science is transferable.

“You look for a similar kind of machinery in more complex organisms,” Young said. “First mice, yes it’s there. And humans, yes it’s there. And then you start finding that the mutations are associated with clear patterns of aberrant sleep in humans.”

Better understanding our clocks, according to the scientists, may help determine the best time to rest, eat, work, and even take medicine.

Thanks to these men and their nearly 30 plus years of research, chronobiology is now a growing field.  And thanks to their Nobel prizes, it will likely keep on ticking.