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Last Updated on June 2, 2022 by Peter

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome 101

When shifts happen in the internal clock, many sleep disorders can occur. A person sometimes does not even notice that he or she has problems with the sleep-wake cycle, although that issue can significantly affect everyday life.

There is a long list of sleep disorders. Some can occur as a result of stress and anxiety, others as a result of underlying medical conditions and also circadian rhythm sleep disorders can be the culprit.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder we all know about, but the term is used lightly, often as a synonym for all sleep disorders. In order to approach the problem in the right way, which may include different types of treatment, it is necessary to correctly identify it. 

The focus of our article is delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). We will explain to you what DSPS is, what the symptoms are and how to treat it.

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    What is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)?

    We mentioned that there are sleep disorders which are a consequence of disrupted circadian rhythm. Delayed sleep phase disorder is one such disorder. It is not always easy to diagnose delayed sleep phase syndrome because it is generally considered to be a deviation from socially acceptable bedtime of at least two hours. One may wonder what socially acceptable bedtime is.

    An image of a woman being tired due to sleep debt.

    But let’s say that in the Western world adults who work 9 to 5 go to bed between 10 and 12 on weekdays. If you can’t fall asleep before 1 AM or maybe even later, then you may be suffering from DSPS. Delayed sleep phase syndrome should not be confused with people who have night owls. Those who suffer from DSPS are tired and want to sleep, but they can’t fall asleep, while night owls have such a circadian rhythm that they like to be awake most of the night.

    The symptoms of DSPS

    Inability to sleep at the desired time is certainly the main symptom of delayed sleep phase syndrome and it is something that should not be ignored, but you must address that issue as soon as possible. However, this is not the only symptom. Since inability to sleep at the desired time has an effect on your circadian rhythm and complete daily schedule, then other symptoms can occur such as depression and the like.

    An image of a young lady stretching and staying awake .

    Inability to sleep at the desired time

    Most people have time when they usually go to bed. Those who work in shifts cannot have such a rhythm. But the body of other people who can have regular schedule gets used to sleeping at a certain time. And if there are sleep rituals on top of that, then it is certain that you will fall asleep at the same time almost every day. Delayed sleep wake phase disorder will manifest in a way that you will not be able to fall asleep at regular times even though you feel tired and can’t wait to go to bed.

    a man trying to sleep

    Inability to wake up at the desired time

    We can say that the inability to wake up at the desired time is actually a chain reaction. Since you can’t fall asleep at the desired time then you won’t be able to get enough sleep by the time you should get up and start preparing for day. That’s why delayed sleep phase disorder leads to oversleep and being late for work, school or some other obligation.

    worst ways to wake up in the morning

    Poor sleep quality

    Poor sleep quality is a symptom of all sleep disorders and not just delayed sleep phase syndrome. So if you notice poor sleep quality, pay attention to whether you have at least one other symptom of DSPS. If poor sleep quality is the only symptom, then you will need more time to determine what you are suffering from.

    an image of a woman waking up in the bed in the morning


    Depression and behavior problems may be associated with DSPS if the DSPS is left untreated for an extended period of time. Since you will be constantly tired and experience drowsiness, then you will be in a bad mood too. Also, when you are tired and you don’t have enough energy, your performance will be lowered and this will also make you depressed, because you will achieve unsatisfactory results at work or school.

    An image of a man suffering from anxiety.

    How to treat DSPS?

    There is no specific cure for sleep wake phase disorder. The cause may be genetics or something else, and what can be done is to control the symptoms. How much one manages to control the symptoms depends on the person and the severity of the problem. Some will be able to get their sleep schedule in order almost completely, while for some other patients the only solution is to adjust to their condition. You have to keep in mind that improvement cannot happen in a few days. So the most important thing is to be consistent with the treatments and then the chances are great to put DSPS under control.

    An image of a man sleeping after the workout.

    Practice healthy sleep habits

    Start by trying to adopt as many good sleep habits as possible. Think about your current habits and whether you have them at all. Maybe the problem lies in the fact that you drink coffee too late or you have no habits and rhythm at all, so the body cannot adjust the internal clock. Food can help you or on the other hand spoil the quality of your night’s sleep.

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    Start a good sleep hygiene

    In recent decades, sleep hygiene has become a very popular concept. Sleep hygiene is not one thing you need to do but many different things that will positively affect your sleep and overall health, because health is very closely related to sleep. Things like avoiding long naps, avoiding electronics and alcohol before bed, exercising regularly and many others are part of good sleep hygiene.

    Stick to the schedule

    It is very important to stick to the schedule, especially when you start DSPS treatment. Avoid night outs and anything that can compromise your sleep schedule. It is not necessary to sleep for 12 hours, no one needs so much sleep except babies, but a night’s sleep should last about the same time. It doesn’t mean that if you wake up early that you haven’t gotten enough sleep. Quality of sleep is paramount.

    An image of a young man looking at his schedule.

    Therapy of bright light

    Bright light therapy or phototherapy is one of the methods used to treat DSPS. Lamps that can produce 10 or more thousand lux or wearable devices with LED lights that produce only 300 to 500 lux but from a short distance are used. There is also approach to use sunlight. Exposure to light should occur about an hour before waking up, in order to stimulate the internal clock. An ophthalmologist should be consulted before the light therapy.


    Chronotherapy is very useful for setting proper sleep – wake cycle. You need to wake up one hour earlier every day so that you can sleep earlier the next day and so on until you reach a sleep-wake cycle that suits you. You have to be very committed while doing this, and also to keep such a sleep schedule after that, otherwise you will quickly return to the old way.


    Medications, such as Abilify, are only used for people with severe symptoms of delayed sleep phase syndrome. However, supplementation is recommended for everyone, and the most popular and effective is melatonin supplementation. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that the body naturally secretes in the evening, and supplementation can increase melatonin levels to help you fall asleep easier.

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    Should I call a doctor if I notice Delayed Sleep Phrase Syndrome?

    It is not necessary to call a doctor immediately when you notice symptoms of delayed sleep phase syndrome or some other sleep disorder, especially if the symptoms are mild. In that case, you should pay attention to whether you may have changed something in your schedule that negatively affects sleep. If you haven’t, then start implementing healthy habits and that should help.

    An image of a doctor in a white coat.

    If none of this helps and you notice that you are sleeping shorter and the quality of your night’s sleep is poor, then it’s time to see a doctor for help. In case the doctor can’t help you, sleep clinic is the next logical step.

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