Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder

Last updated: May 15, 2019

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Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Unlike other disorders that belong to this group, this one is rare. Most people go to bed at night and stay asleep until the morning. People afflicted with this disorder have disrupted sleep. They often achieve just a few hours of sleep each night. It is not unusual for them to have a maximum of 4 hours of sleep each night.

Unlike other sleep disorders like Insomnia or Restless Legs Syndrome, people with Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Syndrome are not sleep deprived. They still get enough sleep. The difference is their sleep is spread over a 24-hour period. People without this disorder have sleep that is concentrated into seven or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Due to the changes it causes in the sleep-wake time, it is usually mistaken as insomnia or Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder.

What causes Irregular Sleep-Wake Syndrome?

Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Syndrome is a result of an almost complete absence of Circadian Rhythm. The Circadian Rhythm is the human body’s biological clock. It is responsible for regulating periods of wakefulness and sleepiness.

If you don’t have a set sleeping and waking schedule, you have an increased risk of developing Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Syndrome. This disorder is also common to people of advanced age. The increase in neurological and psychiatric disorders that come with aging increases the risks of contracting this disorder. Those with dementia, brain damage, and mental retardation have higher chances of developing this disorder.

There are also some factors that can temporarily disrupt the Circadian Cycle. These include irregular work shifts and frequent travel on different time zones.

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Do I need to seek medical attention if I have Irregular Sleep-Wake Syndrome?

Having irregular sleeping and waking times does not require immediate medical attention. Sleeping for short periods is also not considered a medical emergency. If you experience this from time to time, it should not be a cause of concern. There is nothing wrong with occasional sleeping difficulties. However, if you’ve been exhibiting symptoms of this disorder for a prolonged period of time, you may need to seek medical attention.

Before you go see your doctor, assess your sleeping environment. Check for possible causes of your inability to sleep. If you can’t pinpoint a factor that can cause your inability to sleep at a given time, consult your doctor.

Your doctor will need to know about your sleeping habits. Your doctor may require you to keep a sleep diary. A sleep diary is a record of how long and when you slept. Your doctor may also require you to use a sleep tracker so he can study your sleep-wake patterns.

What are the symptoms of Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Syndrome?

A person who has Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Syndrome may experience:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
  • Sleeping on and off during the day
  • Inability to get complete sleep during the night

How is this disorder treated?

There is no cure for Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Syndrome. However, there are therapies and lifestyle changes that can help relieve their symptoms. These include:

  • Controlled light exposure. Get exposed to bright light and blue light during the waking hours. If you are already regularly exposed to bright and blue light, increase the exposure time. Limit your exposure to blue light in the evening. Blue light can come from the TV, computer, cellular phones, and other electronic devices.
  • Melatonin supplement. Taking melatonin supplements before bedtime can help you get to sleep faster.
  • Creating a conducive sleep environment. Make your bedroom as inviting and comfortable as possible. Try to minimize the amount of noise in your bedroom. You can also ensure that the temperature in your bedroom is not too cold or too hot.
  • Maintain a schedule. Schedule your tasks, exercises, and social interactions. Make sure that you stick to your schedule. This way you can ensure that the hours leading to your bedtime won’t have stimulating activities that may make you alert and less sleepy.

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