Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

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Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder in which a person’s sleep cycle is shifted hours later than a conventional bedtime. This causes the sufferer to also wake up later than desired, therefore reinforcing the pattern.

Sleepiness, secretion of melatonin and the appropriate core body temperatures required for falling asleep and waking up is all delayed by a proportionate amount of hours.

Although people with DSPS can’t get to sleep any earlier than about 2am to 6am, they basically fall asleep on the same nightly schedule and their sleep is of normal quality and duration.

If left to their own sleep routine (say, 4am-12pm), they generally will not exhibit symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness. But, of course, if the person has school, work or family responsibilities in the morning this will cause problems.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome patients are often referred to as “night owls” and are most alert and productive in the wee hours of the night.


  • Unable to fall asleep at a desired earlier time
  • Unable to wake up at a desired earlier time
  • Insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorder has lasted for 3 months

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)CAUSE:

Although Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (also called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) and Delayed Sleep Phase Type (DSPT) can occur in any demographic, young adults, especially college students are the most common group affected by this disorder, due to having to stay up late studying for school. And then there’s the partying… As a result, their internal sleep cycle adjusts to this schedule.

This can cause complications if the student has to get up for early classes. Their concentration will be poor, they’ll likely have mood issues and they will eventually acquire a sleep debt. Shift workers can also develop delayed sleep phase syndrome due to their late or rotating schedules.

Adolescents are especially susceptible to DSPS and even cases in younger children have been recorded. Adolescents who refuse to participate in a plan to reinstate healthy sleep patterns, may be experiencing clinical depression. It is uncommon for Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome onset to take place after the age of 30.

The objectives of treatment are to readjust the body clock back to a normal bedtime. If the subject does not want to change his or her pattern, the goal will be very difficult to accomplish. To reclaim a more traditional schedule:

Practice healthy sleep hygiene: 

  • Don’t nap during the day
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime
  • Exercise
  • Educate yourself about foods that keep you awake and foods that make you sleepy
  • Only use your bed for sleep or sex (no TV, phone, texting, games, reading, etc.)
  • The bedroom should be a relaxing environment kept at a comfortable temperature, and suitably dark when appropriate

Morning sunlight:

  • Open curtains, blinds or shades first thing in the morning for immediate exposure to natural light. This helps enforce a healthy sleep/wake cycle.

Bright light therapy:

  • The same principle holds true as with natural sunlight – exposure to rays from light boxes for approximately 25 minutes in the morning will help reset the body’s internal clock.


  • This therapy involves using a regulated schedule to eventually retrain the brain’s proper sleep pattern.


  • Melatonin is a sleep hormone produced by the body, but it is also available in an over-the-counter synthesized form. No prescription is necessary for purchase. Nevertheless, consult your doctor before considering taking melatonin.

Sleeping pills:

  • OTC and prescription sleep medications can sometimes be helpful if used as prescribed. Pills can make matters even worse if proper directions are not followed, not to mention the potential for abuse.

If you think you may have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, seek proper medical counsel.

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