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Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

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Update: June 9, 2023
5 min read

Written by

Arun Das
Content Writer
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders is when you find it difficult to fall asleep, wake up, and even unable to go back to sleep if you are interrupted. It is an umbrella term for a group of sleep disorders that disturb sleep timing. Circadian rhythm is in fact the name given to our body’s internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders. 

What Is Circadian Rhythm?

Circadian rhythm is our internal clock that keeps our sleep-wake cycle in check over the course of the day. It is responsible for your sleep and wakefulness and is controlled by light, darkness, and other factors. Disruptions in your circadian rhythm may occur due to external factors and sleep disorders. 

What Are Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders?

A group of sleep disorders with a common factor that disrupts sleep timing is known as circadian rhythm sleep disorders. This occurs when the natural 24-hour cycle of the circadian rhythm is interrupted. It can lead to several symptoms, from depression to daytime sleepiness

Types of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

The most common circadian rhythm sleep disorders are;

Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSP)

In this circadian rhythm sleep disorder, you go to sleep and wake up two hours later than what is considered normal. For instance, you may be unable to go to bed early and only sleep by 1 or 2 AM and wake up by 2 to 3 PM. Some of the other factors associated with this circadian rhythm sleep disorder are; 

  • You are more productive, focused and creative at night 
  • If you wake up early, you go through daytime sleepiness 
  • You cannot perform well in your early morning tasks and usually feel unmotivated, lethargic or lazy.
  • It may be hereditary and is seen in young adults or adolescents. 

Advanced sleep phase disorder (ASP)

This is the opposite case of deep sleep phase disorder. In this circadian rhythm sleep disorder, you tend to fall asleep early in the evening, anywhere between 6 to 9 PM and wake up around 2 to 5 AM. Some other factors associated with advanced sleep phase disorder are;

  • You probably have insomnia or tend to wake up very early
  • You probably feel sleepy in the late afternoon
  • It is usually common in older people and can run in families 

Jet lag disorder

Jet lag occurs when you cross different time zones while travelling, and this can disrupt your internal circadian rhythm. Due to this disturbance, it gets difficult for you to adjust to the new time zone quickly. Travelling towards the east is more difficult than the west as it is difficult to sleep early. But delaying your sleep a little is possible. Some of the factors associated with jet lag are;

  • You feel tired 
  • You notice changes in appetite 
  • You feel discomfort, uneasiness, and moodiness
  • There may be changes in your bowel and stomach function 

Shift work disorder

If you regularly work in shifts, you may have shift work disorder. It is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder where you experience recurrent sleep disturbances, which either cause insomnia or lead to excessive sleepiness. It can also;

  • Cause fatigue 
  • Uneasiness or mood disorders
  • Stomach or bowel problems
  • Low sex drive 

Irregular sleep-wake rhythm

With this circadian rhythm sleep disorder, you experience irregular sleep patterns throughout the day. You may take several naps at undefined times and experience symptoms such as insomnia, extreme sleepiness, or both. However, this condition is more common in people with dementia or children with intellectual disabilities. 

What Causes Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders?

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders can occur either when your internal clock becomes faulty or when external factors affect the same. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes;

  • Working in shifts and frequent shift changes
  • You are jet lagged
  • You don’t have a consistent sleep schedule 
  • You haven’t been exposed to sunlight in a long time 
  • Taking certain drugs or medications 
  • You have a poor sleep hygiene 
  • Old age 

What Are the Symptoms of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders?

The most common symptoms of this circadian rhythm sleep disorder are;

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep 
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness 
  • Unable to meet social obligations 
  • Experiencing stress 
  • Sleep loss 
  • Finding it difficult to wake up in the morning 
  • Poor performance

How Are Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders Treated?

Once you have been diagnosed with a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, your doctor may steer you towards any one or a combination of the treatments for circadian rhythm sleep disorders treatment as mentioned below. 

Lifestyle change

Here, you make a few lifestyle changes to support healthy sleep habits. Some of these things are;

  • Maintaining a consistent sleep-wake time, even during holidays 
  • Avoiding too many or long naps 
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine before bed

Sleep hygiene

Good sleep hygiene can be beneficial in tackling circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Some of the things you can do for good sleep hygiene include;

  • Have a consistent sleep hygiene routine 
  • Keep aside at least 30 minutes to help you wind up 
  • Dim your lights at least an hour before bed 
  • Stay away from your electronics for at least an hour before bed
  • Opt for relaxation techniques, such as journaling or music

Bright light therapy

This therapy is conducted by a sleep specialist, exposing you to bright light to delay your sleep. This treatment method helps bring your circadian rhythm back on track.


Your doctor may prescribe medications to help you combat the condition. Sometimes, you may go through sleep issues due to another underlying condition, which can be cured with medication. 


Melatonin is a hormone produced by our body that induces sleep. Use of melatonin for sleep and circadian rhythm disorders prescribed by the doctor.


Chronotherapy is a treatment method when your bedtime is moved or delayed regularly until you reach correct bedtime. However, this requires strict commitment.


Circadian rhythm sleep disorders can affect your sleep-wake cycle, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep. However, with the right treatment, you can overcome it. 


How do you fix a circadian rhythm sleep disorder?

If you are suffering from circadian rhythm sleep disorders, take a look at the above blog for remedies.

What are the different types of circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders?

Some of the most common types of circadian rhythm sleep disorders are delayed or advanced sleep disorder, jet lag and shift work.

What are the 5 types of sleep disorders?

Five common types of sleep disorders include;

  • Insomnia
  • Nacroplasy
  • Restless leg syndrome 
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Delayed sleep disorder

What is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder?

Also known as sleep-wake cycle disorders, circadian rhythm sleep disorders are problems related to the internal body clock that can make it difficult for you to fall asleep, stay asleep or wake up in time. 

 Are circadian rhythm sleep disorders hereditary?

Yes, genes play a major role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. Therefore, it is safe to say that it is a hereditary disorder.


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Written by

Arun Das
Content Writer
With a Master's Degree in Mass Communication and nearly two decades of professional expertise in crafting healthcare articles, he possesses a wealth of experience and knowledge in the field.

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