If you struggle out of bed cursing your alarm clock, but find you are wide awake at 1am, then you may have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS). It’s a sleep disorder that can wreak havoc with your body clock.
There a clock on the wall, but there’s also your internal body clock. Sadly, these are not always aligned. The internal body clock controls circadian rhythm responsible for the the sleep-wake cycle. The circadian clock functions in a cycle that lasts a little longer than 24 hours. But not all circadian clocks run on the same schedule.
If your circadian rhythm is not aligned with the American lifestyle, e.g. waking up in time for a 9-6 job, then you may feel groggy in the morning and wide awake at night. For example, a person with DSPS may fall asleep after midnight instead of at 10 p.m. and then will have difficulty getting up in the morning for school or work.
In addition to feeling like you are crawling through your morning, many people with this disorder have described how they have been shamed for having DSPS. In a culture that values “the early bird who catches the worm,” people who suffer with DSPS are being told they’re just lazy.
Dr. Syed Moin Hassan, MD, a SleepMed fellow at Harvard University, took to twitter to defend those with the sleep disorder.
I don’t know who needs to hear this BUT YOU ARE NOT LAZY IF YOU ARE WAKING UP AT NOON. I have spent hours with patients with delayed circadian sleep phase trying to destigmatize sleeping late and waking up late. 1/4— Syed Moin Hassan, M.D. (@syedmoinhassan) March 1, 2020
It starts in school
Over 140,000 people liked the tweet, suggesting this problem may be more common than we think. Teenagers are often the most punished for this type of sleeping behavior, but it’s not that they are lacking in motivation. It really is biological. The teenage body is changing rapidly and requires more sleep. Teenagers and those with DSPS need to sleep for their development and energy levels.
A recent Canadian study underscored that point, suggesting that starting school an hour later would likely improve learning and mental health. While schools in Europe generally start at 9am, some American schools can start as early as 7am, making the situation worse for most students.
Many people on the Twitter thread commented with a similar point: if they were able to set their own hours, they would be much more productive. Some spoke of being happy to work until midnight if they could start at noon, for example. The good news is, many employers are now moving towards more flexibility in work schedules. Music to the ears of those with DSPS.
There is no cure for DSPS. But if you’re unable to move your schedule to meet your sleep needs, you could consider trying the sleep restriction technique, which you can read more about here. It may help to reset your internal clock. But whatever you do, know that you aren’t lazy or unmotivated. It’s all down to brain chemistry.