01/26/2012 01:59 pm ET

5 Tips For Battling Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome

Non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome is an uncommon sleep disorder that usually affects the blind, although some sighted people are also afflicted. We spoke to Roxanne Valentino, M.D., medical director of the St. Thomas Center for Sleep in Nashville, Tennessee, for one approach to the medical problems you or your loved one may suffer from when trying to sleep.

If you think you might have non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Shellie Braeuner

Dr. Valentino explains that in patients with non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome, "sleeping and waking are delayed a little bit every day," which leads to chronic sleep deprivation. Also known as free-running sleep, the disorder prevents the sleeper from adjusting to a 24-hour day. The key to dealing with non-24 is retraining the body and mind.

Change Your Environment

"Keep your room dark when you need to sleep and light when you need to stay awake," she advises. Many blind people are affected by non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome because their brains fail to register light during the day.

Keep Your Cool

"Cool your room when it's time to sleep," suggests Dr. Valentino. More than a source of comfort during sleep, a cool bedroom can also help retrain the body. Over time, she explains, the body learns that cool temperatures signal sleep.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

"Studying and watching TV in bed confuses the body and stimulates the brain. When you reserve your bed for sleeping, your body learns to become drowsy when you lie down."

Check With Your Doctor

According to Dr. Valentino, there are medications available to help with non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome. Check with your doctor to learn about medications that help you reset your sleep cycle.

Seek Professional Help

"If retraining doesn't work and the problem has become chronic, it's time to see a sleep specialist." There are a variety of therapies and medications that work together to deal with this problem.

Roxanne Valentino, M.D., earned her medical degree from Ohio State University. She completed her residency at the Cleveland Clinic, then received a fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic focusing on sleep medicine and neurophysiology. Dr. Valentino is certified in neurology and clinical neurophysiology by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and in sleep medicine by the American Board of Sleep Medicine.

Have you ever suffered from a sleep disorder? What worked for you?