Neuroscientist Michael Rosbash believes sleep patterns have been overlooked as an important "public health problem" for years.
The Brandeis University professor was awarded this year's medicine prize, alongside two other Americans, for research into how genes control the body's natural sleep rhythms.
The laureates used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls a person's normal daily biological rhythm. They found this gene encoded a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day.
Professor Robas said he had no "grandiose thoughts" for how important his first paper, published in the 1980s, would be.
“It’s [now] pretty clear that it has its fingers in all kinds of basic processes by influencing an enormous fraction of the genome,” he told The Guardian.
The research paves the way for a greater understanding of how poor sleep affects the body.
Circadian rhythms allow the body to regulate itself during the day, and that process can affect sleep, behaviour, hormone levels, body temperature and metabolism.
Scientists once believed the brain to be the sole internal timekeeper, but studies are increasingly pointing to similar time keeping genes existing in almost every cell of the body.
The Nobel Prize committee said the researchers had been able to "peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings” and "explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions."
The win came just weeks after a leading sleep scientist said a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic” was causing a host of potentially fatal diseases.
Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, said sleep deprivation affected “every aspect of our biology” and was widespread in modern society.
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