Are you a night owl? Do you thrive being awake until the wee hours of the morning….or even until the sun is coming up? There are many who go through this every single night. They simply find that they are not tired until three, four or five o’clock in the morning. And unfortunately, it is a difficult thing to have to live with every day.
If you are one of the people who find that you just can’t hit the sheets until dawn is breaking, then you may actually be suffering from a condition known as delayed sleep phase syndrome (also called delayed sleep phase disorder). This disorder is caused by a malfunctioning of the circadian rhythm, which causes a sleep delay of two or more hours. So people suffering from this condition, are what would be classified as extreme night owls. This is not a form of insomnia, so people suffering from DSPS, typically sleep normally once they do go to sleep. But the delay in sleep can make work, school and family commitments very difficult to fulfill and the result is often sleep deprivation.
Adolescents are most prone to suffering from DSPS, but it can be carried through into adulthood.
So why am I talking about delayed sleep phase syndrome? First of all, almost no one is talking about this disorder….and yet as many as 15% of people struggle with some level of it, from mild to extreme. Secondly, I have personally struggled with this disorder since I was a child. Ask my parents and they will say that I was a night owl since I was very young. Even as an infant, it was not abnormal for me to still be awake at 10 pm or later. And I remember many nights as a child of laying in my bed unable to sleep for several hours after I went to bed. And since scientists believe that there may be a genetic component to this disorder that is passed down from generation to generation, I would imagine that others in my family may have struggled with this as well.
So this disorder has definitely had an effect on my life since I was young.
Some of the things that I encountered as a result of this disorder:
- Difficulty in school because of excessive sleep deprivation. When you struggle to get to sleep at a decent time, but have to be at school at and early hour, it leaves you extremely sleep deprived and compromises your ability to learn.
- Difficulties in a typical work environment. It can be difficult to hold down a typical 9 to 5 job when you deal with extreme sleep deprivation. Understand that people who struggle with the disorder CANNOT go to sleep earlier. They often try and just lay there, tossing and turning.
- Stress in relationships-for me, my husband really had a hard time understanding this disorder and for the first six years of our marriage, we didn’t even know that it was a disorder. He often told me to just “go to sleep earlier”, not understanding that it just doesn’t work that way for someone with DSPS. It can be frustrating for everyone involved.
- Societal pressure-Lets face it….it’s just not normal to stay awake until 4 am and sleep until 1 pm! As a result, people look down on those who struggle with this and often sufferers of DSPS are labeled as “lazy” or “unmotivated” because their schedule is abnormal. But for those suffering, it is impossible to hold regular hours according to societies standards. I’ve often joked that I’m really part vampire, but at times, it’s really stressful because so many don’t understand.
I did not know that I was actually struggling with an actual disorder until about six months ago. Once I learned about delayed sleep phase syndrome and began researching it, for me it was a weight lifted off of my chest! And for me it also began at a very young age.
Now DSPS can be difficult to treat….but not impossible. There are definitely some tricks and tools that you can use to begin helping your body to start balancing out your circadian rhythms to get you back on a more normal schedule.
These are some of the things that helped me!
Blocking blue light in the evenings.
Many people who struggle with DSPS are actually sensitive to blue light waves. That is definitely a problem for me! So I wear Blue Light Blocking Glasses at night and it really helps. I just need to remember to put them on by 11 pm, and then I find that I naturally begin to feel tired within about two hours.
Since those with DSPS are often sensitive to light, which wakes them up, then light therapy can work well to reset Circadian Rhythms. How this therapy works is by exposing the sufferer to 20-30 minutes of bright light in the morning using a special light therapy lamp to signal the brain to stop production of melatonin. Doing this in combination with use of the blue light blocking glasses at night works wonders at helping to reset your internal clock!
When magnesium levels are low, it can cause sleep disturbances and a great number of people are magnesium deficient due to poor diet, medications, and lack of nutrients in the soil. Supplementing with magnesium is important, but it is also important to use a form of magnesium that will be absorbed easily and won’t cause you to run to the bathroom! I recommend an ionic magnesium
which is more easily absorbed and won’t cause diarrhea for most people. I also regularly use magnesium oil which I rub on my stomach and bottoms of my feet. This type of magnesium will not cause diarrhea at all, and it’s best to do a combination of magnesium supplementation for the best results.
Throughout each day our brain admits certain electrical frequency waves that vary. There are four primary brainwave patterns or frequencies that are recognized. Beta is the pattern that you experience when you are wide awake and alert. We spend most of our lives in beta brainwave state. Alpha is very relaxed, but typically awake (although I find it easy to fall asleep in alpha). Theta is the state of REM sleep, where we dream. Delta is the state of deep, dreamless sleep. People who struggle with DSPS often have an overabundance of beta brainwaves. Listening to an alpha, alpha/theta or delta brainwave entrainment recording such as Dreamy Music for Sleep often can help.
Many who are struggling with DSPS are also deficient in melatonin. Some benefit from taking 3 mg and 30 minutes to an hour before bed. You can find melatonin at most health food stores and even many grocery stores and pharmacies.
So you don’t have to continue being an extreme night owl. These things can help to reset your internal clock, balance your Circadian rhythms and get to sleep earlier! This will help you to function more effectively and prevent sleep deprivation which can lead to disease.
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