What Is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome? Being A Night Owl Can Come With Side Effects
If you love staying up late and sleeping in, you might not think much of it, After all, you’re just a night owl, right? While some people are early risers, you prefer the late-night hours — and you might even get a jolt of energy in the evening that helps you feel more productive. This might not just be your personality, though — delayed sleep phase syndrome is a condition that might be messing with your sleep/wake cycle.
"Delayed sleep phase syndrome, or DSPS, is a disorder of the circadian rhythm that most commonly arises during adolescence," Rob Bent, co-founder and chief product officer of Som Sleep, tells Bustle via email. "It may resolve by early adulthood, but can continue throughout a person's life. People with DSPS are unable to fall asleep at a socially normal time, often go to bed after midnight, and have trouble waking up at desirable morning hours for school or work."
According to the Circadian Sleep Disorders Network, delayed sleep phase disorder, or delayed sleep phase syndrome, is a neurological condition, and it means that a person’s circadian clock, or internal sleep/wake cycle, is delayed “with respect to the external day/night cycle.” In other words, as the sun is coming up, you’re ready to crash, and as the day ends, you’re wide awake. It's different from just liking the late-night hours as DSPS is considered a sleep disorder. If you have DSPS, you actually can’t fall asleep until really late — somewhere between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. — and you may also have trouble waking up the next day before the afternoon, the Circadian Sleep Disorders Network says.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that DSPS isn’t yet fully understood by experts, and its exact causes are unknown. Symptoms include insomnia, difficulty waking up for work or school, and feeling very tired during the day. The Cleveland Clinic notes that DSPS often sets in during adolescence, but sometimes shows up in childhood as well. The disorder is diagnosed by patients describing their symptoms, and sleep pattern tracking via sleep logs. Homework, work assignments, peer pressure among teens, and late night tech usage may also reinforce the pattern of staying up too late, the Cleveland Clinic says. Teens and children with the sleep disorder may also have depression and other mental health conditions, and may end managing missed school days, chronic lateness, and trouble focusing in class.
"Popular ways to manage DSPS include shifting up bedtime by a few minutes each night until a normal bedtime is achieved, avoiding light in the evenings, and using melatonin. Of course, any therapy for DSPS should be designed and overseen by a physician," says Bent.
While sleep disorders are something to take seriously, being most active past of a "socially acceptable" bedtime isn't necessarily a disorder. Some studies suggest that people who like to stay up late might just have a different genetic chronotype than early birds do.
"Some degree of variation in circadian timing is normal and leads to behaviors that define one's chronotype, which ranges from high 'eveningness' to high 'morningness'," Bent says. "People with high eveningness, or 'night owls', tend to go to bed and wake up later. Those with high morningness do the opposite — going to sleep and rising earlier than average."
And if you're wondering if one is better than the other, the reality is they each have their advantages. "Neither end of the spectrum appears to be inherently good or bad," says Bent. "However, those with more extreme chronotypes may require more diligent effort to fit their natural sleep patterns into a healthy routine that also meets the demands of their daily schedules." While there may be health benefits to being an early riser, night owls have some advantages, too, according to Business Insider. If you’re a night owl, you might be extra creative and intelligent, and you may also have high levels of physical and mental stamina overall.
If your nighttime schedule is causing physical or mental health issues, you might want to look at whether or not you have a sleep disorder. But if you thrive during the wee hours, get your projects done, and feel good the next day, then it’s probably nothing to worry about. If your schedule works for you, then carry on, nocturnal friendlies.