What is a Circadian disorder?

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders involve a problem with the timing of when a person is asleep or awake. There are a number of different types of circadian rhythm disorders.

  • Delayed sleep phase disorder(DSPD) is where you regularly find it difficult to get to sleep till late at night (in some as late as 3 or 4 am) and prefer to sleep in until late in the morning. Total sleep time is normal. If allowed to follow your own body clock you will typically wake feeling refreshed. DSPD is more common in teenagers and young adults.
  • Advanced sleep phase disorder (ASPD) is where you would regularly go to sleep early and wake early (in some people as early as 3 or 4 am). Again total sleep time is normal and if allowed to follow your own body clock you will wake refreshed. ASPD is often seen in older adults.
  • Irregular Sleep-Wake Cycle is where there is an undefined pattern with sleep occurring as naps over the full 24 hour period. This is often seen in people with neurological disorders such as dementia.
  • Free running type is where your sleep-wake cycle shifts later on a daily basis. Often there is a lack of lighting cues from the environment. This can be seen in people with poor vision or those with certain neurological diseases.

How is this treated?

It is important to see your physician for treatment if the disorder is affecting your ability to function normally. Treatment is aimed at “resynchronising” your body clock.

Good sleep hygiene and good sleep habits are important. Self medication can make things worse.

Lifestyle changes with a good diet and exercise routine may be helpful to normalise your sleep-wake cycle.

Sleep restriction may be employed to shift your body clock.

Bright light therapy can be used to adjust your body clock and medication such as melatonin may be employed in the short term.

Working in conjunction with a trained psychologist may be useful.

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