Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders involve a problem in a person’s “internal clock” or circadian rhythm that results in difficulty sleeping. Your internal circadian clock runs on a 24 hour cycle, and regulates hormone production, digestion and, of course, sleeping. Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders are characterized by a hard time initiating sleep, a struggle to maintain sleep, waking up early and being unable to fall back asleep, and non-restorative or poor quality sleep.
There are many types of Circadian Rhythm Disorders, which are outlined below:
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSP): DSP is a sleep schedule problem that is typified by staying up and waking up later than is normal. Adolescents are often affected by DSP and have difficulty waking up for school or work as a result of it.
Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder (ASP): ASP is a sleep schedule problem that involves going to sleep and waking up much earlier than is normal. ASP typically affects older people and usually results in falling asleep between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. and waking up between 2 and 5 a.m.
Jet Lag Disorder: Jet Lag Disorder occurs after a person travels across time zones. There is a contrast between the actual time of day in their new location, and their internal clock. This results in excessive sleepiness.
Shift Work Disorder: Shift Work Disorder occurs when a person is scheduled to work during normal sleep hours. This interrupts the circadian rhythm and makes them sleepy during their work shift. People with Shift Work Disorder may also have difficulty falling asleep because they are forced to rest when most other people are awake.
Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm: people who do not have a regular sleep pattern of any kind may suffer from Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm. This occurs when a person naps periodically throughout the day and does not ever sleep for a prolonged period of time.
What Causes Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders are generally caused by changes in routine, abnormal work hours, or travel. Failure to maintain a healthy, regular sleep schedule will likely result in a Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder. Insomnia can also contribute to Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder and Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm. Heredity may be a factor in certain Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders. Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders are largely determined by age; for example, Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder is much more common in adolescents, whereas Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder usually affects the elderly. Older adults are also more likely to be affected by Jet Lag because their bodies cannot as quickly adapt to a new time zone.
Treating Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
The best way to treat Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders is by establishing and following a healthy, standard sleep schedule. Delayed and Advanced Sleep Phase Disorders can be greatly reduced by consistently going to bed and waking up at normal hours. Doing this on a regular basis retrains your internal clock, allowing your clock to adjust to more normal hours of sleeping and waking. Carefully monitored nap time can also help limit the effects of a Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder.
Certain medications and bright light therapy can be very helpful in treating Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders. Bright light therapy involves controlled exposure to certain light frequencies that work to strategically reset your internal clock. Therapy and lifestyle adjustments can greatly reduce the harmful effects of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder; if you believe you are suffering from one of these disorders you should contact a sleep specialist or sleep clinic in your area.