01/30/2012 01:01 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2012

Your Sleep Questions Answered: Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders are common sleep disorders that usually begin at adolescence and can affect adults of all ages. We scoured the Web to find answers to some frequently asked questions about circadian rhythm sleep disorders, giving you background information so that you or your loved one can literally sleep better at night.

Note: You should not rely on the information in this post as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Jason O'Bryan

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

Though particular types may vary, WebMD defines all circadian rhythm sleep disorders as "disruptions in a person's circadian rhythm -- a name given to the 'internal body clock' that regulates the (approximately) 24-hour cycle of biological processes in animals and plants." These come in five main forms: jet lag; shift work disorder which affects those who work nights or switch shifts; delayed sleep phase syndrome in which one falls asleep late and wakes up late; advanced sleep phase syndrome which causes one to fall asleep early and wake up early; and non 24-hour sleep-wake disorder which causes inconsistent bouts of insomnia due to a 25-hour cycle affecting the sleep pattern.


The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers four diagnostic criteria: difficulty falling asleep; struggle to maintain sleep and waking up frequently during the night; tendency to wake up too early and inability to go back to sleep; and sleep that is nonrestorative or of poor quality.


There are many possible causes. YourSleep highlights a few main causes such as drug or substance abuse, a medical problem and jet lag or shift work (working at night or rotating shifts). WebMD adds possible causes such as pregnancy, changes in routine, medication or lack of external cues such as light.

Standard Treatments

Lifestyle changes and what's known as "sleep hygiene" (an insistence on healthy, unmedicated sleep) are common treatments. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine describes these treatments as well as bright light therapy, hypnotic or stimulant medications and the hormone melatonin, which plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle.


YourSleep advises a visit to the doctor, but circadian rhythm sleep disorders are not life-threatening.

Quality Of Life

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine cites depression and insomnia as possible effects, as well as sleep loss, excessive sleepiness, impaired work performance, disrupted social schedules and stressed relationships. All such causes are extrapolated from the fact that circadian rhythm sleep disorders prevent the individual from feeling well-rested.

Age-Specific Trends

An article published on Medscape states that delayed sleep phase syndrome is most common in children and adolescents, while advanced sleep phase syndrome is more likely to appear in the elderly. Additionally, health risks associated with shift work increase with age.

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