Statistics say there’s a 1-in-3 chance that you suffer from some kind of sleeping disorder which stops you getting the right amount of rest you need and has a significant impact on your lifestyle. One of the most common of these is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, or DSPD. But what is it, how does it affect us, and most importantly, how can we treat it?

Trouble putting down your SmartPhone before bed? Just one more episode of that addictive Netflix series? There are a lot of reasons to stay up late and if it only happens now and again, it’s probably harmless. But if it becomes a habit you could be putting yourself at risk from Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.

What is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder?

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder describes a ‘glitch’ in the body’s Circadian rhythm that causes the delay of a sleep pattern by two or more hours. In other words, DPSD keeps us awake longer, delays waking in the morning and ultimately causes fatigue. Although the sleep DPSD sufferers get is normal, the delay in achieving it and the fact that it’s often shorter in duration can cause disruption to work and other social demands and should be treated if it is causing these kind of problems. Generally, DSPD sufferers can be said to have the following symptoms –

  • A delay in sleeping patterns in relation to a desired or required schedule
  • Problems falling asleep at a desired time
  • Problems waking at a desired time
  • Are affected by these symptoms for at least seven days

Treatment 

When seeking treatment for Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, it’s important to rule out other potential causes of the problem. These can include another sleep disorder, an undiagnosed medical condition, side effects of prescribed medication or substance abuse. Studies indicate that 50% of DPSD sufferers also experience depression so ensuring the right problem is identified is a vital first step in any treatment. If you think you may have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, we recommend contacting a healthcare professional. After an initial examination and confirmed DSPD diagnosis, your doctor may recommend a treatment plan. Generally, this focuses on four areas, the first of which is making a planned effort to improve sleeping habits – so called ‘sleep hygiene’. 

4 ways to counter Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder 

Establish better sleep hygiene 

Although some find the term misleading, sleep hygiene simply describes the establishing of healthy bedtime and sleeping habits. Giving yourself the best possible chance of enjoying quality sleep can be optimised by avoiding caffeine or alcohol before bedtime, not eating too late, setting a comfortable temperature in the bedroom and not taking part in vigorous exercise late in the evening.

Chronotherapy 

As the name suggests, chronotherapy is a time-based therapy that involves the gradual application of a new sleep schedule. This schedule delays bedtime by between one and three hours every six days until the desired effect and bedtime have been achieved.

Melatonin supplements 

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that controls your body’s sleep and wake functions. The body produces more at night and the amount produced is also affected by our exposure to light. Melatonin supplements are often prescribed for insomnia or DPSD and in some cases to counter jetlag.

Bright light therapy 

Bright light therapy is a simple but proven method of resetting the body’s Circadian rhythm. With this treatment, the patient is exposed to bright light early in the morning, immediately after waking up. In the evening (especially the hours before bedtime) the opposite is applied – in other words, bright, outdoor light is avoided. By doing so, a foundation for improved sleep routines can be established.

There are lots of great tips for getting a better night’s sleep. However, DPSD, like any sleep disorder, is a problem that should be taken seriously and we recommend talking to a healthcare professional if sleeping difficulties are causing health issues or significant disruption to your life.