Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) & Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD)

We are all aware of the ill effects of our fast-paced modern-day life on our health. Unfortunately, very few of us realise the toll this lifestyle is taking on our sleep. While we know less shut-eye time will make us lethargic and tired the next day, most of us do not associate it with a sleeping disorder. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder are sleep disorders which are afflicting many of us in these modern times.

What is DSPS?

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome or DSPS is one of the most common circadian rhythm sleeping disorders. People with DSPS go to sleep early in the morning between 1 AM to 4 AM and wake up later in the morning between 8 am to 11 am.


Sleep disorders like DSPS have become more common in the recent years, especially among the youth. According to experts, seven to sixteen percent of today’s youth have DSPS. In this disorder remains unchecked it can lead to more severe problems.

What is DSPD?

A person with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder has a disturbed circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is an internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between phases of sleepiness and alertness. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.

When the circadian rhythm of the body is disturbed, one is not able to function properly in day to day life. The person finds it difficult to wake up and get to work or school on time.

This disorder is often misdiagnosed as insomnia or depression. People afflicted by this disorder can get into depression as they are not able to function properly during the day.

What are the symptoms of DSPD?

Examine your night-time routine for a few days to determine if your sleeping habits are healthy or not. An average adult should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night. These are some of the signs and symptoms of DSPD.

  1. Inability to fall asleep at the right time.
  2. Inability to wake up early and excessive sleepiness during the daytime.
  3. Depression and other behavioural problems. Excessive drowsiness during daytime can lead to behavioural problems and depression. Some people also become dependent on caffeine and alcohol.

Seek medical attention if these symptoms seem familiar.

How is DSPD diagnosed?

A sleep specialist will first discuss the patient’s problems and complaints. If he suspects that the patient is suffering from a circadian rhythm disorder, he will ask the patient to prepare a log of his sleep timings.

If the sleep study of the patient’s normal sleep timings (not dependent on school or work pressures) can be obtained, it is most useful for the sleep specialist.

The doctor may also ask you to go through an overnight polysomnogram to rule out other disorders like sleep apnea or Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. Some doctors also ask for Multiple Sleep Latency Test to be done during the patient’s day to identify if the patient is suffering from narcolepsy.

What are the long-term health effects of DSPD?

DSPD should be diagnosed and treated at the earliest. The long-term health effects of this disorder include depression, anxiety disorder, weight gain, diabetes and cancer.

How is DSPD treated?

Sleep specialists usually prescribe bright light therapy for this disorder. This therapy involves exposure to bright light in the morning and restricting light exposure in the evening to shift the body’s circadian rhythm. In some cases, doctors also prescribe hormone melatonin in the evening.

Some doctors prescribe sleep-inducing medicines but often this does not improve the quality of sleep of the patients, and the patient remains lethargic through the day.

Phase-delay chronotherapy is another technique used by sleep doctors for DSPD patients. This involves delaying the sleep schedule my moving it further and further gradually, till you reach the desired sleep timing.

This technique works for patients who are not able to shift their sleep schedule earlier. While this technique works for some, for others it is disorienting.  In some cases, it can also get worse and turn into a 24-hour non-sleep disorder.

For many people with DSPD following the regular sleep schedule is impossible. Trying to change their sleep patterns causes them more stress. These people prefer to follow their routine.


Can DSPD affect learning?

Though DSPD does not affect your intelligence, it can affect your concentration, attention span and memory due to excessive drowsiness. Diagnosing children with DSPD at the earliest is essential. Adjust their study habits with the cooperation of the school authorities. This will help prevent low self-esteem as the children will not be misunderstood as lazy and inattentive.


Most of us have days when we find it impossible to sleep early. This is attributed to caffeine or alcohol intake or some stressful situations. For some people, however, sleeplessness is caused by disorders like DSPS and DSPD. These disorders are treatable and should be treated at the earliest to avoid long-term health problems.


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