Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Disrupting your internal clock

Some of us just can’t help but delay sleep a little longer. Whether it’s one more show, one more chapter or one more level on Candy Crush, we like to do some unwinding before we go to sleep.

Continually delaying sleep can cause our internal clocks to be readjusted, however, and a problem can arise called delayed sleep phase syndrome. With this syndrome, it becomes difficult to overcome your internal clock when you do need to sleep or wake up at a different time. Even if you’re tired, your body won’t go sleep until 1 am, if that is what your internal clock is set to.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome affects as many as 15 percent of teens and adults, and accounts for 10 percent of all chronic insomnia cases, according to the American Sleep Association (ASA).

Circadian Rhythm

Each of us has a built in system for determining when we sleep and when we wake throughout 24 hours, and this is called our circadian rhythm. This rhythm is usually set by the light-dark cycle.

For most people, if they go to bed later or earlier than usual, the circadian rhythm will adapt and allow the person to fall asleep and wake up as they plan.

With delayed sleep phase (DSP), the person has difficulty falling asleep at an unusual time, even if the person is physically tired and would like to sleep. Furthermore, the person will wake up at the same time, even if the amount of time slept is shorter or longer than preferred by the individual.

This can be problematic for school and work, and many other endeavors. Schedules change and obligations arise that demand sleep at a certain time, and DSP prevents healthy sleep.

Those suffering from the syndrome compensate by napping during the day or sleeping excessively on the weekends. But this simply perpetuates a cycle that can become unhealthy.

DSP often develops in adolescence, and continues into early adulthood, according to the ASA. It can also begin in adulthood. Both genders are affected equally. A family history of the disorder increases the likelihood that a person will suffer from DSP.

Contributing Factors

Not being exposed to sunlight in the morning, and being overly exposed to sunlight in the evening can both contribute to the development of DSP.

Viewing electronic screens before sleep may also be a contributing factor, as research shows that light from these devices can delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Continually delaying sleep with electronic media consumption can adjust your internal clock.


Most commonly, medical professionals will work with people to gradually move back sleeping times until the desired sleeping time frame is acquired. Maintaining the new routine is essential after treatment. According to the ASA, the internal clock can reset completely even if a person breaks the healthier habit for just one night.

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