Circadian Rhythm Disorders and What to Do

We’re probably all felt the sleepy/drowsiness problems associated with changes in our waking and sleeping times, for instance, when traveling across time zones or having to change from the day to the night shift at work. Or having to deal with a crisis that requires all our attention and keeps us from our regular sleep rhythms. It’s no fun, right?

This sleepiness/drowsiness syndrome is related to what’s called our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is kind of like the body’s 24-hour clock. It knows when we’re supposed to be awake and when we’re supposed to be resting and rejuvenating. Generally, this clock hews to the rhythms of day and night, though we can adjust our body cycles somewhat if we do indeed work those night or graveyard shifts.

Generally, science has classified five types of circadian rhythm problems associated with sleep patterns:

First is jet lag or time-zone change. A lot of us have experienced this when traveling from one location to another, and it seems that the farther away we travel, the more adjusments our bodies are forced to make.

Second is work shift disorder. This arises when we have to rotate shifts either frequently or occasionally. The new schedule puts our circadian rhythms — our internal clocks — out of sync until we adapt, just like the time-zone problems in disorder/syndrome number one.

Third is called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS). DSPS is characterized by not being able to fall asleep until late at night and then finding it difficult if not impossible to get up early for work.

Fourth is Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPS). This is pretty much the opposite of DSPS. The sufferer goes to bed too early and wakes up too early, for instance, in bed by 7 and up by 3 — or worse.

Last is the Non-24-Hour Sleep/Wake Disorder. This is often called the 25-hour-day syndrome, in which the sufferer falls asleep at various times and wakes up at various times, either early or late at both ends. But in between the person wakes to insomnia and loses sleep time.

Some of these disorders and syndromes can be helped and even cured by personal effort at better sleep hygiene and more attention to diet and exercise, but some indeed require professional help. If you fall into any of these categories and feel that help is beyond your own effort — you’ve tried and nothing has changed — then surely it’s time to visit the nearest sleep professional. Don’t hesitate.

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