I thought I would take a moment today to tell you all about another (yes, another!) condition I am living with: Delayed Sleep-Phase Disorder.
Essentially, your body clock runs between two to six hours behind everyone else, evidenced by its timing of sleep. It sounds innocent at first, but bear with me!
Delayed Sleep-Phase Disorder (DSPD) belongs to a group of sleep disorders known as circadian rhythm sleep disorders - where individuals experience chronic sleep disturbance due to misalignment in their body's circadian timing.
For example, an individual whose circadian rhythm, or "body clock", is delayed may find that their ideal time for sleep is 4am with a rise time of 12noon.
This schedule does not match the typical sleep window of most adults; and thus the main problems of those with DSPD relate to attempting to fall asleep (before their body clock is ready to) and attempting to wake up in the morning (before their body clock is ready to).
Now, I know what you're thinking, and trust me - people with DSPD are used to it!
"Just get out of bed you lazy bugger!"
"You're such a night owl!"
"Why don't you just go to sleep earlier!"
We spend our whole lives hearing this, because DSPD is a life-long condition. Since I was a baby my parents would struggle every night trying to get me to bed. Every. Single. Night.
Sleep disorders are hugely under-diagnosed, because people often assume the problem is just a personal or behavioural trait.
Other than being life-long, the main diagnostic criteria for DSPD include:
- No other problems with length or quality of sleep once asleep,
- Not to be confused with insomnia,
- If allowed to go to sleep when ready and rise when ready, can enjoy a normal balance of sleep,
- Sleep delay not caused by substances or other medications,
- Can be proven with testing of body temperature and polysomnographic monitoring, for example at a "sleep clinic".
Right now, it's 11:21pm, and I can feel my body shifting up a gear. This is my prime time for creativity, productivity and energy. Convenient, huh?
My body will not fall asleep naturally until after 3am. That's when it thinks the sun goes down. And, obviously, I won't get up any earlier than 12noon.
This of course has negative effects on, well, everything. I'm known for running late. People ask if we're meeting at our agreed time, or at "Jess time", which allows an extra 30 minutes.
It has caused me significant, repeated problems in attending school and work.
And the treatment for DSPD is - not a lot! There's nothing that works in the long term, or that "fixes" the problem. Melatonin and "bright light therapy" only work as long as you're actively using them; once you stop, your body goes back to its ways.
Of course, you need to keep up good sleep hygiene (e.g. avoiding caffeine, regular bed times) but this won't alter the body clock of someone with a sleep disorder.
Luckily (sort of!) for me, my current psychological conditions mean I am on several medications, one of which puts me to sleep. So for now, I can artificially control my bed time.
I just have to aim to have a job that fits into an afternoon or night shift fixture when the day comes that I'm not on medication. If that day comes!