Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is characterized by a person whose sleep is delayed by two or more hours after conventional bedtime or socially acceptable sleep hours. This causes difficulty in waking up at the desired time. For instance, instead of falling asleep by 10 p.m. and waking up by 6:30 a.m., a teenager with the disorder may fall asleep past midnight and then struggle to get up in time for school.

The majority of teenagers with DSPS are self-proclaimed “night owls” and are most alert and function better at evening or nighttime hours. Usually they prefer to sleep in later on weekends to ‘catch up’ on lost sleep.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome Causes

The exact cause of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is currently unknown. However, studies have shown that about 7 to 16 percent of teenagers have the disorder. Experts theorize that it may be an exaggerated reaction to the normal shift in the internal body clock that is seen in teenagers after puberty. Frequently misunderstood, it is not a deliberate rebellion. DSPS is most common during adolescence and in some children, but it is rare for the onset to occur during adulthood.

Symptoms of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

DSPS symptoms include:

  • Inability to fall asleep at a preferred time - This usually results in complaints of insomnia and may be heightened by the pressures teenagers feel to stay up late whether it is to do homework, or use the internet or cell phone.
  • Inability to wake up at a specified time and excessive daytime fatigue - This complaint is the most common because it is associated with insomnia. The delay in falling asleep and needing to wake up early often results in extreme drowsiness.
  • No other noticeable sleep problems - Children and teens with DSPS sleep well at night with few or no awakenings once they are asleep. However, they suffer from a shift in their internal body clock and sleep/wake cycle.
  • Depression and behavioral issues - DSPS may cause depression or other psychiatric troubles, such as behavioral issues, which stem from daytime fatigue and possibly missing school. Daytime sleepiness can lead to reduced productivity at school and poor academic performance from missed school day or tardiness. Dependence on caffeine or alcohol may be a problem, as well.

Diagnosis of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

A sleep log and description of symptoms can diagnose DSPS accurately. An overnight sleep study may be recommended in order to rule out any other sleep disorders if the history suggests a teen may have another sleep problem.

Treatment for Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

DSPS can be effectively treated by practicing good sleep habits and attempting to maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle. These habits may involve limiting naps, avoiding caffeine and stimulants which can disrupt sleep, and maintaining a cool and comfortable bedroom environment.

Bright light therapy may be effective, too. It involves exposure to a special light box for approximately 30 minutes in the morning to help reset the body’s internal clock. A similar technique involves reducing bright light exposure in the evening.

Medication may be used to reset the internal body clock if other methods are ineffective. In many cases, melatonin or other natural sleep-promoting supplements are a good option.

If you are interested in finding out more about delayed sleep phase syndrome and treatment options, call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563 and one of our representatives will be happy to answer any of your questions.