If your sleep schedule seems completely out of whack, you may wonder if the problem is with your circadian rhythm, your biological clock that cycles between sleep and wakefulness.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is a disorder in which your typical sleep pattern is delayed by two or more hours. People with DSPS typically go to bed between 1 and 4 a.m., according to the American Sleep Association (ASA). The delay in falling asleep makes it harder for you to wake up, which can cause problems with work and family demands.

Contact the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome Risk Factors

The exact reason for the onset of the disorder is unknown, but the ASA says DSPS affects about 15 percent of all teens and adults. Researchers believe that DSPS may be due in part to the shift that occurs in your internal clock after puberty, though it also can occur in adulthood.

According to the ASA, you’re more likely to develop DSPS if someone in your family has it. You’re also at a higher risk if you don’t get enough sun during the day or are exposed to too much light in the evening.

Symptoms of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Sufferers often complain of insomnia because they’re unable to fall asleep, then complain of difficulty waking up in the morning and feeling very tired for the first few hours of the day. They often report having no sleep problems on days off from work or school because they simply shift their sleep schedule to a later time.

DSPS can lead to social isolation and conflict with parents and other loved ones who consider the inability to wake up and go to work or school as a sign of laziness. Teenagers with DSPS often are late for school or have trouble staying awake during morning classes. As a result, they frequently experience academic issues including poor grades. People with DSPS also are at higher risk for depression.

DSPS is typically diagnosed based on symptoms. A doctor might suggest keeping a sleep diary or wear a small watch-like device that tracks your sleep-wake behavior for several weeks. Occasionally, the doctor may recommend an overnight sleep study to rule out other sleep disorders.

How is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome Treated?

If you have DSPS, it’s important to develop and maintain good sleep habits. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (including weekends). You can slowly shift your bedtime schedule by moving it 15 minutes earlier over a period of time. And avoid caffeine, nicotine products, television, and smart devices before bedtime.

Your doctor also may suggest light therapy. Exposure to bright light when you wake up ­— and avoiding bright light from cell phones, computers, and television in the evening — can help readjust your circadian rhythm. Melatonin before bedtime can also help as you’re shifting to an earlier bedtime.

Contact the UPMC Sleep Medicine Center at 412-692-2880 for more information or to schedule an appointment.