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What Is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder?

Affecting mostly teenagers, delayed sleep phase disorder keeps you awake until the wee hours, say 4 a.m. or 6 a.m., but then when you do finally fall asleep, you conk out until your normal eight hours or so. Meaning you could easily miss school or work unless you use a sure-fire alarm system, and even then, you’ll no doubt be dog tired all day.

Stated another way, in delayed sleep phase disorder, your biological cycle of wakefulness and sleep is out of whack, delayed beyond what is normal. As suggested above, you may not even feel sleepy until the wee hours of the morning, perhaps only an hour or two before you should be preparing for work or school.

Fortunately, most teenagers with this disorder grow out of it, but for some the symptoms continue into adulthood. When they do, there are approaches that can help, such as light therapy and chronotherapy. If you consistenly have trouble falling asleep until way past a “normal” bedtime into adulthood, you definitely need to seek professional help.

Even others without delayed sleep phase disorder bring on their own woes by choosing to stay up way too late reading, chatting online, dealing with emails or watching late-night television. Not only does this make it hard to get a full night’s rest (unless you have no early-morning responsibilities to worry about), but it can also cripple your functioning during daylight hours and eventually lead to health risks, even heart problems.

So the first choice is to quit doing what robs you of your precious sleep time. The second is to realize that engaging in these activities before bedtime — or even while in bed getting ready for sleep — will make it harder for you to fall asleep once you turn off all your devices and the room is pitch dark.

This is because the light going into your eyes will retard or even prevent the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone that is so essential to your sleep.

Nature equipped us not only to know the difference between day and night because of light and its absence, but also to respond to light and dark in different ways. Light sends a signal to activate our energies, and dark sends a signal to produce melatonin for a sound night’s sleep.

Therefore it’s essential to respect mother nature’s genius. Whenever we can, we need to soak in the sunlight in the daytime by going for walks or reading or eating outside, weather permitting. It’s more important to get real sun — even in winter — than it is to get light from fluorescent fixtures in our offices. Real sunlight packs a more powerful punch in tuning our biological clocks. Then at night, it’s equally as essential to shun light and let the darkness overtake us.

If you have to read or use your eyes before bedtime, you can cheat your light sources by using readily available blue-blocking glasses (blue being the shade in light that blocks melatonin). But it’s best to let the darkness grow and overtake you rather than have a residence bathed in light, with electronic devices consuming your attention, when getting ready for bed.

This advice all falls under the category of good sleep hygiene, practical steps which all of us have at our disposal. However, if you can’t achieve good sleep on your own, or if you suspect you have a sleep disorder, please consult a sleep professional ASAP. Don’t delay or disrupt your sleep for whatever reason.

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