Circadian Rhythm Disorders (Symptoms and Treatment)

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What Are Circadian Rhythm Disorders?

Circadian rhythm disorders are 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. The term circadian comes from Latin words that literally mean around the day. There are patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, and other biological activities linked to this 24-hour cycle.

The circadian rhythm is important in determining sleeping patterns such as when we sleep and when we wake, every 24 hours.The normal circadian clock is set by the light-dark cycle over 24 hours.

What Causes Circadian Rhythm Disorders?

Circadian rhythm disorders can be caused by many factors, including:

  • Shift work
  • Pregnancy
  • Time zone changes
  • Medications
  • Changes in routine such as staying up late or sleeping in
  • Medical problems like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.
  • Mental health problems

Common Circadian Rhythm Disorders

  • Jet Lag or Rapid Time Zone Change Syndrome: This syndrome consists of symptoms including excessive sleepiness and a lack of daytime alertness in people who travel across time zones.
  • Shift Work Sleep Disorder: This sleep disorder affects people who frequently rotate shifts or work at night.
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS): This is a disorder of sleep timing. People with DSPS tend to fall asleep at very late times and have difficulty waking up in time for work, school, or social engagements.
  • Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome: Advanced sleep phase syndrome is a disorder in which the major sleep episode is advanced in relation to the desired clock time. This syndrome results in symptoms of evening sleepiness, an early sleep onset, and waking up earlier than desired.
  • Non 24-Hour Sleep Wake Disorder: Non 24-hour sleep wake disorder is a condition in which an individual has a normal sleep pattern but lives in a 25-hour day. Throughout time the persons sleep cycle will drift in and out of normal societal norms, sometimes falling asleep at a later time and waking up later, and sometimes falling asleep at an earlier time and waking up earlier.

Quick GuideSleep Disorders: Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, and More

Sleep Disorders: Insomnia, Sleep Apnea, and More

How Are Circadian Rhythm Disorders Treated?

Circadian rhythm disorders are treated based on the kind of disorder diagnosed. The goal of treatment is to fit a person's sleep pattern into a schedule that allows him or her to meet the demands of their lifestyle. Therapy usually combines proper sleep hygiene techniques and external stimulus therapy, such as bright light therapy or chronotherapy. Chronotherapy is a behavioral technique in which the bedtime is gradually and systematically adjusted until a desired bedtime is achieved. Bright light therapy is designed to reset a persons circadian rhythm to a desired pattern. When combined, these therapies may produce significant results in people with circadian rhythm disorders.

Melatonin is sometimes used to help prevent jet lag. Ask your doctor about it if you are traveling between time zones.

SOURCE: WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on October 14, 2016


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Reviewed on 10/3/2016

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