Do you have trouble getting to sleep?
The difference between Insomnia and Delayed Sleep Disorder can be confusing. With Insomnia so readily the label for anyone who has any interrupted sleep, whether this spans just one night every so often or is a recurring issue, you would think it’s easy to self-diagnose. Insomnia is typically the diagnosis for those who can’t stay asleep. For others, staying asleep is not a problem, it is actually drifting off in the first place that poses the challenge..
It’s bedtime, the lights are off and you’ve just snuggled into your warm winter duvet. Comfortable – yes. Cosy – yes. Sleepy – yes. Can you get to sleep – NO, not a chance! Do you constantly toss and turn while trying to get your brain to switch from overdrive to snooze time? Do you ever wonder why you seem to be up much later that everyone else? Do you study, read, watch TV late into the evening making 11:00 pm, when most are heading to bed, seem early to you? Do you feel alert or awake at night despite a long day? Do you have trouble waking up in the morning because you never seem to get enough sleep but once asleep you sleep pretty well? Does a grave yard shift often sound more appealing than your day job? If you can relate to the above a lot more than you would like to, you could have Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome (DSPS) or Delayed Sleep-Phase Type (DSPT) rather than Insomnia.
These typically deemed ‘night owls’ are often mistaken for traditional insomniacs. You don’t however, quite seem to fit the mould. The casual observer might think your late nights are the cause of your poor sleep habits rather than a symptom. Just being told that you need to manage your time better, be sensible and get an early night or need to learn to be more responsible, is not particularly helpful or sleep inducing. The good news? It really isn’t your fault.
DSPS sufferers do not fall into the natural sleep-wake patterns most people have. The best way to describe it is like living with permanent jet-lag, which for most people would be inconceivable.
No-one has really got to the bottom of DSPS but studies often show a shift in the internal cycle of melatonin production, otherwise known as the night hormone. This means a person with DSPS will normally experience a significant delay in falling asleep, irregular sleep patterns and difficulty in getting up in the morning. Symptoms also include but are not limited to: day time drowsiness, dependency on caffeine, irritability, tiredness, and inattention accompanied by lengthy sleep-ins on the weekend. No it’s not about being lazy and it is definitely not a bad habit that you can kick with a bit of effort.
Apart from difficulties in getting to sleep, most people with DSPS who do not suffer with any other conditions such as sleep apnea, can sleep peacefully once actually in a state of sleep. If left to their own devices without the 9-5 constraints of work, school and society, those living with DSPS would naturally go to bed several hours later than the rest of the world and wake accordingly, several hours later in the morning feeling refreshed and full of energy.
It is not just DSPS in itself that is the issue. Sleep deprivation has been linked to behavioural problems, mood swings, depression, ADHD, tardiness and dependency on sedatives or other drugs and even alcohol, all of which lead to a whole other barrel of problems…
DSPS generally occurs following hormone shifts during adolescence but can be seen in some children early on. It generally is a lifelong battle. It can also only really be officially diagnosed via sleep logs and tests conducted at a professional sleep clinic by a trained consultant.
There is no cure but sufferers can try to lessen the condition by establishing as much of a regular bedtime routine as possible, especially with children and teenagers. This includes keeping a steady routine without allowing sleep and waking times to be exaggerated over weekends or holidays – easier said than done though! Other good practices for a good night’s sleep involve reducing intake of caffeinated products, nicotine and alcohol, especially just before heading to bed. It is also worth trying to bring bed time forward a little in 15 or 20 minutes blocks until a desired sleep time is reached.
Some specialists have also suggested light therapy as a way of helping to reset a person’s biological clock. Professional advice does need to be sought before going down this route.
There is much to be said, however, for reducing exposure to light before you go to sleep i.e. putting away those iPads and Kindles and avoiding brain stimulating activities such as Facebook, checking emails, skyping, texting and watching movies while in bed. Leave all of this for a more sociable time of day.
As for taking any sleep inducing products; this could be an option but it is always best to consult a GP or sleep specialist first. Should you wish to improve your sleeping aids, then first things first – invest in a really comfy mattress and good quality sleepwear that will ensure that bed is a place you feel suitably comfortable and cosy, somewhere you want to be rather than a place of constant anxiety and frustration. Helping to re-establish a positive connection between the bedroom and the brain is as good a start as any to combatting asleep disorder.