So you’ve been getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep, yet you still wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck. What’s worse, after spending the day perpetually exhausted (your brain waves barely waving), when it’s time to hit the sack, you’re wired and ready for take off. What the eff is up with that? You might have what’s called delayed sleep phase syndrome — a super common, super treatable circadian rhythm disorder.
“I see this issue frequently in my clinic,” says Nitun Verma, M.D., at the Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders. “People with it often feel alert at bedtime and sleepy in the morning, even after getting the recommended amount of sleep.” Basically, what happens is your bod has a natural inclination to go to bed later and wake up later than what’s typically considered “normal.” For example, your body might be “set” to go to bed in the early morning hours, from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., and get up later, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., not cool for those of us with, you know, jobs.
Since it’s a disorder that tends to disrupt a woman’s routine, she might find herself napping during the day, or going overboard on sleep on the weekends to offset the sleep deprivation during the week. But, alas, the vicious cycle starts all over again come Monday morning. Le yawn. What I find particularly galling about this problem is that no matter how tired you are your body still demands to go to bed when it wants to. It’s like you have no say in the matter whatsoever!
This chronic sleep deprivation leads to oodles of fun things — like severe exhaustion, irritability, a mind that short circuits and, if you’re really lucky, you might even be labeled as unmotivated or undisciplined. Yay.
You might have DSPS if…
- You always fall asleep later than you want to.
- When you have to get up in the morning, it’s as if you didn’t sleep at all (enter Mack truck).
- You generally don’t have other sleep problems. On days where you get to go to bed and wake up when your body actually feels like it, you feel refreshed.
- Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee.
How to deal with DSPS
While it’s not an easy fix, if DSPS is potentially interfering with your daily schedule, then it’s important to work your tuckus off to minimize its effects. There are typically two options to combat DSPS:
Advance your internal clock. This means moving your bedtime a little bit earlier each night until your desired bedtime is reached. You might start by going to bed at 12:30 a.m., 12:15 a.m. the following night, midnight the next and so on. You might also move your wake time simultaneously, so the amount of sleep you get is always the same.
Delay your internal clock. This change would only be effective if you were to take time off to accomplish it (though it’s the method that worked for me) — the theory being it’s a lot easier for your bod to adjust to a later bedtime than an earlier one (so true in my case). Each night, you’d move your bedtime one to three hours later, as well as your wake time, until you’ve reached your desired bedtime.
Sleep habits are everything. Do everything you can to stick to your sleep schedule once you’ve hit your sweet spot. As someone who’s been through this about 7,000 times over the years, it’s crucial to resetting your internal clock. One slip up, one extra episode of Scandal and… bam! You’ll be right back where you started. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Every. Day.
Other options to help you along include bright light therapy, avoiding bright light in the evenings, nixing stimulants from your diet and medications such as melatonin — but only under the advisement of a sleep specialist.