What is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome?

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Have you been called a night owl? Do you stay awake for several hours well into the night when everyone else is sleeping? Do you have difficulty waking up in the morning and getting on with your day?

You might have delayed sleep phase disorder, or sometimes called delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, if you are not purposefully staying awake. Your internal clock may be the problem, and it’s time to take action to get to sleep at appropriate times and get the rest you need. 

Delayed sleep phase syndrome often develops in adolescence and can go undiagnosed for several years. It can also creep up on you at any time in your life without prior signs.

Are you simply a night owl or have a sleep disorder? Let’s take a look.

What Is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is one of the most common circadian rhythm sleep disorders. It affects up to 15% of the adult and teen population. It can develop in the teenage years when staying up playing video games or socializing becomes routine to consequently continue into adult life.

Delayed sleep phase disorder is not the same as being a night owl, where you choose to stay up and not go to sleep at what is considered standard times. The occasional staying up late because you’re watching a movie or out at an event isn’t considered delayed sleep phase syndrome.

When you suffer from delayed sleep phase disorder, your internal clock is not evaluating the day/night cycles properly. Humans are naturally wired to sleep during the dark nighttime hours and to stay awake during daylight hours. 

Do you think you may have delayed sleep phase disorder?

Signs of Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Have trouble falling asleep

    You want to go to sleep but can’t. You don’t fall asleep for two or more hours than desired. You’re awake and very alert way past midnight most nights when everyone else is sound asleep.

    Have difficulty waking up in the morning

      Because you fell asleep so late, your body needs more hours well into the morning, or even the afternoon, to regenerate and feel rested. This can cause problems at work or at school. 

      Napping during the day

        Naturally, if you didn’t get enough hours of sleep, you will feel the strong urge to nap during the day. Feeling tired during the day is often a sign that you didn’t get enough sleep.

        Depression and mood disorders

          Your daytime activities may be affected when you suffer from delayed sleep phase syndrome. This can cause you to get to work late or miss days of school. You can become stressed, anxious, and depressed if you feel like your life is being negatively altered because of your odd sleeping hours. 

          Substance dependence

            Being constantly tired during the day can have you reaching for coffee or energy drinks that can quickly lead to dependency.

            Delayed sleep phase disorder isn’t usually accompanied by any other sleep disorder. Once you get to sleep, you usually sleep well. 

            The problem is getting to sleep.

            Causes of Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

            There is no exact known cause for delayed sleep phase disorder. Some factors may come into account when looking for the source of this sleep disorder. Delayed sleep phase disorder occurs equally between men and women. 

            Genetics/hereditary

              There may be a genetic component to the sleep disorder. It tends to run in families. So, if you’re part of a family of “night owls,”you may be at higher risk for suffering from delayed sleep phase syndrome.

              Psychological and neurological disorders

                Delayed sleep phase disorder is sometimes accompanied by other medical issues like depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

                Puberty

                  Puberty brings on its fair share of physical, emotional, and social changes. The body’s need for sleep during adolescence decreases, and this can bring on episodes of delayed sleep phase disorder. Also, teenagers tend to become more social at this time and stay up later than when they were younger.

                  Poor sleeping habits

                    You may increase the chances of developing delayed sleep phase syndrome if you regularly and willingly stay up late. Also, napping for extended periods during the day can provoke the sleep disorder.

                    Chronic insomnia

                      Delayed sleep phase syndrome is usually not associated with any other sleep disorders. Still, you may be at a higher risk of developing the syndrome if you have chronic insomnia. 

                      Are You a Night Owl or Do You Have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

                      It’s important to distinguish between the two because the effects on your health are different.

                      Night owl
                        • You deliberately choose to stay awake.
                        • You fall asleep with no problems when you decide to go to bed.
                        Delayed sleep phase disorder
                        • You want to go to sleep at the same time as everyone else, but can’t.
                        • You are very much alert and not feeling sleepy when everyone else is tucked in for the night and has drifted off to dreamland. 

                        How to Find out if You Have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

                        First, speak with your doctor or primary care practitioner who will most likely prescribe a sleep study with a sleep specialist. 

                        This circadian rhythm disorder often gets misdiagnosed with insomnia, depression, or other sleep disorders. It’s important to supply as much information to your sleep specialist. Keep a sleep diary and be as specific as you can with all pertinent information regarding your sleep patterns.

                        Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome Treatment

                        Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

                        Your sleep specialist will determine what the best treatment options are for you. Usually, a combination of treatments is necessary to treat the sleep disorder.

                        Your body’s clock will be adjusted so that you can adapt to regular sleep/wake cycles. 

                        Better sleep habits and environment

                          Establishing a comfortable sleep area with a suitable temperature and avoiding caffeinated products before bedtime can help regulate your circadian rhythm. 

                          Melatonin

                            A study was conducted in 2010 that proved the successful use of melatonin supplements to help patients with delayed sleep phase syndrome. 

                            Chronotherapy

                              Chronotherapy means adapting to a new sleep schedule gradually over the course of several weeks to attain a balanced sleep schedule.

                              Light Therapy

                                Sitting for 30 minutes in front of bright light in the morning can help regulate your body clock to help get you to sleep faster at night.

                                Having the random night where you go to bed late is normal. Being unable to get to sleep regularly is not. Any sleep issue should not be taken lightly and should be looked into. There are easy treatments or solutions for people who snore, people who have sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders. Delayed sleep phase syndrome is the same. 

                                Delayed sleep phase syndrome is quite common, and more people are afflicted than we probably know. Because they are often called night owls, people figure that they have a different rhythm than everybody else and should learn to live with it.

                                Look into proper care and treatment if you suspect that you suffer from this syndrome. Left undiagnosed and untreated, delayed sleep phase disorder can have some huge impacts on your personal and work life.