Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Do you often have trouble getting to sleep at night?  Do you find yourself not able to fall asleep until the early hours of the morning?  Do you find yourself tired throughout the day and frustrated that you can’t get enough sleep?  If so, it’s possible you have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.  But don’t fear, as treatment is possible.

Circadian rhythm

Sleep disorderA Circadian rhythm is a natural biological process that sets the body’s functions on a 24-hour cycle.  These rhythms are driven by one’s circadian clock.  Circadian rhythm sleep disorders are family of sleep disorders characterized by the disrupting of normal sleep patterns and the circadian clock.  Those suffering from circadian rhythm sleep disorders are unable to function in a sleep pattern conducive to work and normal life.  Most unusually, most are able to get a good and uninterrupted sleep once they actually fall asleep.  These disorders are extremely harmful to those who suffer from them, affecting them biologically and also socially.  There are two different types of circadian sleep disorders: extrinsic and intrinsic.  One of the more common intrinsic circadian rhythm sleep disorders is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.

Just what is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome?  Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder characterized in its most simple terms as the inability to fall asleep in a timely manner.  People who suffer from DSPS will often find themselves not falling asleep until early in the morning, and then having a hard time waking up in time for work or school.  Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome affects almost .13% of the adult population.  For teenagers the numbers are much worse, with DSPS affecting almost 7% of teenagers.  DSPS especially affects people who are attempting to maintain a normal schedule.  Students or adults who work a 9 to 5 job will be most affected by DSPS as it inhibits them from blending into the normal daily routine.


What causes Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is not well known.  Because of its prevalence in adolescents, it is theorized that it may be an exaggerated form of the internal clock change that young people experience when undergoing puberty.  What we do know for certain about DSPS are the symptoms of it.  Symptoms of DSPS include the inability to wake up at the desired time, difficulty falling asleep until the desired time, a deep sleep once falling asleep, depression, and erratic behavior.  Because of these, the only way to properly diagnose DSPS is to analyze the subject’s sleep habits.  Because of its dramatic symptoms and similarity to other sleep disorders, it is often misdiagnosed.  An overnight sleep study, or a polysomnogram, will help eliminate the possibility of it being another sleep disorder.


Once DSPS is diagnosed, there are a few ways to treat the disorder.  The best and most simple way to fight back against DSPS is to start and maintain good sleep habits.  Maintaining a steady sleep schedule can be the best preventative against DSPS.  This may involve changing the current cycle of sleep, by moving back or forward they time one goes to bed.  A new method of treating DSPS is bright light therapy.  Bright light therapy consists of exposing the subject to a bright light for thirty minutes in the morning.  This helps reset the body’s internal clock.

There are also a variety of pharmaceutical treatments as well.  Consuming sleep medication may be a way to force oneself into sleep to create a sleep cycle.  Melatonin may be prescribed for this reason.  However, the problem with Melatonin is it has the potential to have drastic side effects that may outweigh the benefits of taking the drug in the first place.  Modafinil is a drug that is commonly prescribed for shift work sleep disorder, but can also be used for treating DSPS as well.

Finally, one of the least talked about treatments of DSPS is structuring one’s life around the disorder in a way that one can cope with the disorder.  This can involve taking on careers with late hours, or working at home in a way that allows one to work at their peak periods of energy.  It’s important to remember that it is never worth giving up, despite how much harder it may be for you.