What to do if you struggle with delayed sleep phase syndrome
This blog post was created by our Sleep Coach Eva Nyhagen.
What can you do, if you are struggling with delayed sleep phase syndrome or circadian rhythm disorder?
Delayed sleep phase syndrome or delayed circadian rhythm is the most common circadian rhythm disorder. It can develop at any age but it mostly affects younger adults. Roughly 15% are struggling with it.
Circadian Rhythm disorder is a sleep disorder in which the cycle of sleep and wakefulness in your body clock is delayed, so your entire sleep phase has been shifted to a later time than desired. As a result, it's difficult to fall asleep at night because the mechanism in your brain releasing the hormones making you energetic gets activated a lot later at night than it should, causing you to stay up very late before you go to bed. In essence, it might be 5 am before you fall asleep. The delay makes you wake up later and it often interferes with your work, school, or other social activities.
Your internal clock
Your body contains an internal clock that tells you when to wake up and when to go to bed. If you have a delayed sleep phase disorder this means that your internal clock isn’t running properly. Reasons for this might be long-term bad habits around sleep:
- bedtime and sleep hygiene
- increased sensitivity to light
- hormonal changes
- reduced sleep needs
All of that will cause your biological clock to go a little slower. It can also be linked to depression or anxiety.
Struggles with delayed sleep phase syndrome
For most people, the problems start in puberty, where hormones and disturbed development of melatonin production can be one of the biological causes. In addition to biological vulnerability, social factors and habits can also be a major cause.
Unfortunately, many people are having these sleep problems for a long time without being aware that there is a treatment for this. Many young people struggle with both work and studies because they don’t manage to get up in the morning. They are seen as lazy, disobedient, and unmotivated. Some have struggled with this since childhood and they haven’t received the help they are entitled to. The tragedy is that this can result in them dropping out of school or work life and also developing personal problems.
Delayed sleep phase syndrome treatment
But there is help and a solution to this. I have helped many people who struggle with delayed sleep phase disorder. After about 3 weeks of treatment with a sleep diary, daily follow-up, stimulus control, cognitive therapy, sleep hygiene, and light treatment, they are back in rhythm and can function in normal life again. The treatment time varies from person to person as this requires motivation but my impression is that most people are very motivated to get back into a good circadian rhythm.
The main focus in the treatment of delayed sleep phase syndrome is a combination of light therapy that is used to advance the biological circadian rhythm, along with the gradual shift of time one wakes up in the morning. The treatment continues until the resetting is achieved. It`s also very important to avoid blue light exposure in the evening and during the night. Your body clock gets confused as the blue light triggers your daytime hormones. This is why you should wear blue light blockers if you watch screens at night.
The goal of the treatment is to increase the strength of the circadian rhythm, going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, with better sleep at night and more wakefulness during the day.
When using light in the treatment it's important that the light is strong enough and that you use it exactly at the time of the day when the circadian rhythm is particularly receptive to light exposure.
In practice, this means that you should be exposed to daylight immediately after you wake up, not wearing sunglasses, minimum of 30 minutes, but preferably a bit longer. This is the best-documented way of moving the biological circadian rhythm.
During winter you might be using a daylight lamp and it`s important that it has more than 10 000 lux.
Sometimes it may also be helpful to use the hormone melatonin in addition to the light to help shift the circadian rhythm. This must then be taken 12 hours before the light exposure.
Our biological clock also controls our body temperature, hormones, wakefulness, and feelings of hunger. In essence, it can be difficult to break this pattern without the proper treatment. For many people, this becomes a vicious circle that ultimately has a huge negative effect on both performance, mood, and other factors during the day.
If the timing of your sleep is affecting the quality of your life, then you should get help. You can book a free initial phone call with me by visiting the Sleep Like A Boss team page.