Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Symptoms of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (or DSPS)

Delayed sleep phase syndrome, also known as DSPS, is a sleeping disorder that describes patients who are unable to go to sleep during normal hours at night and, consequently, may experience symptoms of sleep deprivation during the day, such as not being able to stay alert while thinking, driving or performing other daily functions. Living with DSPS for an extended period of time could even lead to depression and stress disorders. Trying to lead a “normal” lifestyle on only a few hours of sleep a night can also lead to physical illness. Symptoms usually start appearing when the patient is young and persist through adulthood. DSPS may also affect a patient in conjunction with other circadian rhythm sleep disorders, such as non-24-hour sleep phase syndrome, which describes patients who need more hours of sleep than normal each night to feel well rested.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome differs from insomnia because if a DSPS patient were allowed to adhere to his or her preferred sleeping schedule, falling asleep and waking up naturally would not be difficult—whereas insomniacs struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep no matter what time. People with delayed sleep phase syndrome simply cannot shift their sleeping patterns from their usual, delayed sleep schedule to a more normal schedule. DSPS patients have problematic and oddly inflexible internal body clocks, so regulation of their circadian rhythm, or sleep timing, is not within their control. A person generally referred to as a “morning person” or a “night person” prefers a certain sleep schedule that may be abnormal, but usually has more control over their biological clocks.

Treating Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Since research into delayed sleep phase syndrome is, on the whole, a relatively recent development, there are few tried and trusted ways of treating symptoms and no permanent way to cure the condition. For now, most patients simply adjust their lifestyles (work and social lives) to fit their inflexible sleep schedule—for example, taking the night shift at work or joining a support group for people with insomnia in order to make friends. Changes to sleeping environments and practicing routine sleeping patterns such as the bedroom may also help minimally—but it is generally very difficult to train or manipulate a biological clock that has proven to be so rigid.

Bright light therapy is one treatment method of DSPS that seems to be more successful than most. It involves shining especially bright lighting into the eyes during the early morning, or staying in sunlight for a period of time upon waking. Special bright lights with UV filters are available for people who find light therapy effective, although many have reported side effects such as hyperactivity and disorientation. Contact a sleep center about possible alternatives to light therapy, such as natural melatonin pills or chronotherapy, if you need help treating sleep deprivation symptoms.