Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome: How Being a Night Owl Affects Your Health
Representation purpose only.
Delayed sleep time causes insufficient sleep, inability to wake up on time and daytime sleepiness. It also delays the entire clock of the next day, thereby affecting meal timings, work, exercise, leisure and other activities.
Your body has an internal clock regulated by light, which is known as the circadian rhythm. Any disruptions in this rhythm can affect your health negatively. Sleep disorders are particularly associated with such disruptions in the circadian rhythm and do not have any positive health outcomes in the short or long run. Delayed sleep phase syndrome or DSPS is one such sleep disorder.
Stanford Health Care defines DSPS as a sleep disorder in which a person’s sleep is delayed by two hours or more beyond what is considered to be the conventional bedtime for good health. This usually means that a person with DSPS goes to sleep around 2 am or after that every night. Delayed sleep time causes insufficient sleep, inability to wake up on time and daytime sleepiness. It also delays the entire clock of the next day, thereby affecting meal timings, work, exercise, leisure and other activities.
Causes of DSPS
The exact causes behind DSPS are yet unknown but studies indicate that it may be owing to a genetic or family history of the disorder, psychological or neurological disorders like depression, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), chronic insomnia or poor sleep habits that may develop during adolescence or young adulthood.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that a particular type of genetic mutation may be responsible for causing DSPS. The mutation, which the researchers say is quite widespread, affects one of the four main proteins - CLOCK, BMAL1, period and cryptochrome - that regulate the circadian clock. This particular mutation alters the cryptochrome protein in such a way that it throws off the body’s circadian rhythm and makes sleeping on time difficult for those who have this gene mutation.
How DSPS is diagnosed
Stanford Health Care states that the prevalence of DSPS among adolescents and young adults is approximately 7-16% globally and this is despite the fact that DSPS is often misdiagnosed. Misdiagnosis of DSPS occurs because the most evident symptoms of DSPS are fatigue and sleeplessness at night, which are also seen in insomnia, depression or anxiety disorders. This is also the reason why going to a sleep specialist for a proper diagnosis is important so that tests like actigraphy and polysomnogram can be conducted to ascertain the problem.
A multi-pronged approach to treat DSPS
Treating DSPS usually requires the adoption of more than a single method with the purpose of normalizing your sleep-wake schedule. The following are some of the methods used to treat DSPS:
- Bright light therapy may be used to gradually shift your sleep time and sleeping pattern to a more conventional one.
- The chronotherapy method involves delaying your sleep time by an hour or two every six days until you finally have a normal sleep pattern. This method is more time-consuming and can disrupt your daily activities.
- Advancing your sleep timing by 15 minutes every day is a simpler method to regularize your sleep pattern, although it also requires you to wake up 15 minutes earlier every day.
- Your sleep therapist may ask you to take melatonin supplements to manage DSPS hormonally. This supplement should not be taken without a doctor’s recommendation as the dosage and timing differ for every individual.
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and other unhealthy habits before bedtime can naturally help you sleep better. This also includes staying away from blue-light emitting devices at night.
For more information, read our article on Sleep disorder.
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