What Is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder?

What Is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder?

We’ve all had those mornings where we struggle to get out of bed. We know it’ll be cold when we get up, or we feel like we haven’t had enough sleep, and we just want to sink back into bed and go back to sleep. But there are people who struggle with this every morning, and it’s possible that they’ve got Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPS).

What Is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder?

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD), or Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, is a type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Your circadian rhythm is an inner body clock that decides when you need to be awake, and when you should be sleeping. It’s influenced by exposure to daylight, which is why you’re up when the sun’s up. You can read more about your circadian rhythm here.

When you have DSPD, your circadian rhythm is disrupted, and it’s not responding to your environment as it should. This could result in you falling asleep two or more hours beyond a conventional bedtime even if you’re tired. So, when the alarm goes off, you’ll feel like you haven’t slept long enough. One of the main issues with DSPD is trying to fall asleep before your body clock is ready to, and then trying to wake up in the morning before your body clock is ready to. This can lead to sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness, which can be a challenge if you need to go to work or school.

DSPD can develop at any age, but it seems to mostly affect teenagers and younger adults. About 15% of adolescents and adults have DSPD.1

Symptoms of Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

The symptoms of DSPD can include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at a desired time
  • Difficulty waking up at a desired time
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Complaints of insomnia
  • No other sleep disorders are present
  • Mood and behaviour issues
  • Depression or stress

DSPD could also lead to a dependency on caffeine, alcohol, or sedatives.2

DSPD vs. Night Owl

Although they sound similar, DSPD and being a Night Owl are not the same thing. If you’re a Night Owl, you likely deliberately stay up late to do homework, socialise, or anything else that you enjoy doing. This is because Night Owls feel more alert in the evenings. You’ll also wake up later than usual if you’re a Night Owl. However, when it’s time to follow a normal routine, you’re able to adjust your sleep schedule.

If you have DSPD, you aren’t going out of your way to stay up late – you just can’t get to sleep. Your circadian rhythm is delaying sleep even if you’re tired. It can be hard for someone with DSPD to adjust their body clock, which makes it difficult to sleep and wake at normal times.

Read more about being a Night Owl in our article, ‘Are You A Night Owl or a Lark?

How Can You Help Yourself Get A Good Sleep?

While DSPD makes it difficult to regulate your sleep, getting your body clock on track is not impossible. We’ve gathered some tips for how you can help to regulate your circadian rhythm and help yourself get a good sleep.

Try Light Therapy

As your circadian rhythm is influenced by daylight, it could be a lack of light that’s causing DSPD. A great way to expose yourself to light (other than going outdoors) is light therapy. The Bodyclock Go 75 Wake Up to Daylight Light from Lumie is an alarm clock that recreates a gradual sunrise. This wakes you up naturally so, when you open your eyes, you feel awake and more refreshed. Waking up like this will help to regulate your body clock, and it’ll even boost your mood and energy levels for the day. Find out more about its benefits here.

Reduce Exposure to Light in the Evening

Just as your body wakes up when there’s light, it should be settling down in the evening when it’s dark. Don’t have strong lights on in your house as this’ll keep your body clock alert. Using dim lights will combat this. You should also limit screen time in the evening and avoid screens completely about an hour before you go to bed. The light that’s emitted from phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs will disrupt the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This keeps your circadian rhythm irregular. Instead, introduce a relaxing bedtime routine into your evening. This could be something like having a warm bath, getting in your pyjamas, and then reading or listening to relaxing music for a little while before going to sleep. Be consistent with it, as your brain and body will need to learn it to accept it as a signal for bedtime.

Change Your Bedtime Schedule

There are two ways you can do this. You can gradually move your bedtime forward, or gradually move it later. Moving your bedtime later usually works when it’s about three hours, but this only works if you’ve got a period of time where you can implement this, as it involves going to bed and waking up at inappropriate times. If you have to get up for work or school, or any other commitments, bring your bedtime forward. You can do this by going to bed fifteen minutes earlier, and do this bit by bit. For example, if you’re going to bed at midnight, go to bed at 11.45 p.m. and then, a couple of nights later, go to bed at 11.30 p.m. Continue doing this until you’re going to bed at the time you want to, not when your body clock decides.

However, getting up in the morning will have to be adjusted also. It’s recommended that we get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, so bring your waking-up time forward to keep in line with your bedtime. So, if you have to get up at 7 a.m. but find this difficult, moving your bedtime to 11 p.m. is ideal. Keep your alarm clock away from your bed if you really struggle with getting up. This will force you to get out of bed in the morning.

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

Keep a regular sleeping schedule, as this will really help to regulate your circadian rhythm. You should also make sure that your room is dark, quiet, and cool. Plus, only sleep in your bed – don’t do any work, studying, or any other hobbies. This will help your brain associate your bed with sleep. If you are still awake after twenty minutes of going to bed, get up. Don’t stay in bed – your brain will come to associate your bed with restlessness, and this’ll make it even harder to fall asleep. Instead, get up and go to another room. Do something relaxing, like reading – even if it’s a magazine. Only go back to bed when you feel sleepy.


It’s not just an urban myth – exercise does help you sleep better! However, keep your exercise to the morning or earlier part of the day. Exercising too close to bedtime will keep you alert and you’ll still find it hard to fall asleep. Exercising will also tire your body out, so you should find sleeping a bit easier.

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Although the first cup of coffee in the morning can keep you alert, drinking coffee during the day will keep you alert. You’ll find it hard to sleep, and this will lead to sleep deprivation the next day. You should also limit your alcohol intake, especially in the evening. While alcohol can help you feel sleepy, it’ll actually keep you from drifting off into a deep, restful sleep and could wake you up in the middle of the night. You may have trouble getting back to sleep, damaging your body clock even more.

Track Your Sleep

Tracking your sleep could help you get a better idea of your sleep pattern, and how you could adjust it. You can do this by keeping a sleep diary, recording what time you fell asleep, what time you got up, and if you woke up during the night. Or you could invest in the SE80 SleepExpert Sleep Sensor from Beurer. It’s a non-contact device that monitors your sleeping habits, so you’ll get a precise record of how you sleep. You can read more about its benefits here.

While these are ideas for how you can help to regulate your body clock for a better sleep, the best way to help yourself is to visit your doctor. Talking to your doctor will help them to decide the best treatment. For example, they could prescribe sleep-inducing drugs or refer you to a sleep specialist.

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