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Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder

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The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSP) is a condition that belongs to the group of Circadian Rhythm Disorders. As its name implies, when a person has this disorder, their sleep gets delayed by two or more hours. This delay is a result of the normal sleep pattern shifting to a later time. As a result, waking time also shifts to a later time. Unlike with other sleep disorders, a person with DSP still gets a normal amount of sleep. However, due to the delay caused by this disorder, this disorder can affect one’s work or social life.

Someone with DSP prefers to go to bed and wake up later than other people. He stays up late until he gets too tired. He also prefers to wake up at a later time and this can cause problems if he needs to go to work or school at an early time. As a result, someone with DSP often suffers from excessive sleepiness and fatigue the following day. The symptoms of DSP often lead to it getting confused with insomnia.

What are the symptoms of Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder?

A person who has DSP may:

  • Have trouble sleeping at their desired time
  • Experience delays in their desired waking time
  • Have a normal amount of sleep but not during a time that is socially acceptable
  • Experience daytime sleepiness that can result in academic, professional, or social impairments
  • Have mood changes
  • Experience anxiety and depression
  • Lack of focus and concentration during periods of wakefulness
  • Exhibit higher levels of attentiveness during the evening hours
  • Have difficulty shifting their sleep schedule back to an earlier time.

What causes DSP?

Although the exact cause of DSP is not completely determined, there are some theories on what may be causing this disorder. Those who are natural “night owls” have a higher risk of developing this disorder. Genetics also play a role in this disorder. Around 40% of people who have DSP have a family history of the disorder. Other factors that can contribute to developing the disorder include:

  • Early morning demands. Schedule changes can cause a person to get chronically insufficient sleep. When a person has to sleep or wake up earlier than their normal schedule, there is a chance that the body will resist and it can result in a much later sleeping and waking time.
  • Late night activities. Some activities, when performed late in the day, can lead to delayed sleep onset. Adrenaline-releasing activities like exercise can cause someone to feel more active and resistant to sleep. Taking caffeine during the evening can also cause a delay in the onset of sleep.
  • Exposure to blue light. Getting exposed to blue light before bedtime may suppress the release of melatonin. Melatonin is the body’s biological signal for sleep. A person with DSP is sensitive to even low levels of blue light. Electronic devices that emit blue light include TVs, cellular phones, and computers.
  • Lack of daylight. Morning light, or daylight, suppresses melatonin and helps wake a person. When a person sleeps in an environment that doesn’t let daylight in, it can be harder for that person to wake up.

What can I do to relieve DSP?

A person with DSP can work out a plan with his doctor or sleep specialist to relieve the symptoms of this disorder. Steps that may be taken include:

  • Better Sleep Hygiene. Practicing good sleep habits can help a person maintain a regular sleep schedule. An example of a good sleep habit is avoiding caffeine and stimulating activities like exercise close to bedtime. The bedroom should also be limited to activities like sleeping and sex.
  • Taking melatonin supplements. Taking melatonin supplements can help in adjusting a person’s sleep-wake cycle. A doctor can prescribe the proper dosage of melatonin supplement that can help relieve the symptoms of DSP.
  • Light Therapy. Ensuring that a person is exposed to morning light can help him wake up earlier. It can also help adjust the body’s Circadian Rhythm.
  • Chronotherapy. Chronotherapy is a way of gradually adjusting the sleeping time until it is back to its normal schedule. A person will delay his normal bedtime to a slightly later time each day. Let’s say that a person goes to bed at 2 AM each night. During the first day he will go to bed at 4 AM. On the second day, he will go to sleep at 6 AM. The patient should do this until the sleeping time is back to its normal schedule.

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The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

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