Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) Explained

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In this fast-paced world where tempo never seems to dwindle, society is growing accustomed to abnormal sleep habits. Unknowingly, many of these individuals may be suffering from Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) or Disorder (DSPD). To determine if your nighttime behavior is healthy or potentially harmful, there is much that you should know.

A recent study found that, within a sample of 5000 people, 40% of sleep-related disorders were attributed to DSPS. We know it’s a common problem, but what exactly is DSPS, and how can it be detrimental to your wellbeing?  

DSPS Defined

DSPS is defined as a disorder causing anyone afflicted to delay their sleeping and waking by roughly two hours. This regular disturbance in the sleep/wake cycle is referred to as a disruption of the circadian rhythm. Typically, someone with this disorder will find themselves staying up until between 1 PM and 4 AM. Congruently, this same person will find themselves sleeping in until between 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM regularly.  

The commonly used term, “night owl,” is often applied to those tackling this suspected disorder. For these individuals, life may seem relatively normal. This routine might not sound unappealing to those whose schedule is unaffected.

Sleep disorders like DSPS are becoming increasingly widespread, and experts estimate that approximately seven to sixteen percent of today’s youth have DSPS.

With the growing prevalence of DSPS in modern culture, it’s important to identify the signs that this could become a more serious clinical condition.


DSPD Defined

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) is when the disruption of the circadian rhythm inhibits one’s ability to properly function in day to day life.  This disorder most often presents itself as trouble waking and preparing for everyday routines such as attending school or getting to work.


It’s common also, that people afflicted by DSPD are falsely diagnosed with insomnia or depression.

Depression can often be attributed to DPSD, as those dealing with this disorder often experience decreased academic or work related performance and drowsiness during otherwise enjoyable activities.

How to Determine if You Suffer from DSPD

Before seeking out medical attention, examine your nightly sleep routine.  If you are uncertain as to whether your sleep habits are normal or abnormal, there are many online resources outlining classically healthy nighttime practices.  

This article details tips and tricks related to determining if you’re habitually taking too long to fall asleep, and ultimately may need to seek treatment.  It is also important to look at the amount of sleep, on average you receive each night.  According to, adults and young adults should be getting seven to eight hours per night.

Treating DSPD

There are a number of options available for individuals with DSPD, and many involve simple lifestyle changes aimed at aligning one’s sleeping ritual to fit their specific lifestyle.

Such treatments may include a reduction or elimination of caffeine intake, bright light therapy, and/or incorporating a nightly melatonin regimen.


Light Therapy is a bourgeoning method of addressing several sleep disorders.  While, it is noted by experts that further testing is required to determine the success of remedies such as light therapy, doctors are confident in its effectiveness.   

Light Therapy treatment consists of placing the patient near a device that emits a bright light mimicking that of natural sunlight, aiming to affect certain chemicals in the brain connected to mood and sleepiness.

For some, treating DSPD can be as simple as sticking to a strict schedule, adhering to your daily routine regardless of how tired you are, until the problem is naturally corrected.  For others, the mere consistent avoidance of light in the evenings for an extended period is enough to amend the issue.


It is normal for most people to experience intermittent bouts of sleeplessness or insomnia.  These sleep abnormalities are, in most cases, attributed to caffeine intake, significant life events and many other basic factors.  For some, however, irregular sleep patterns may be caused by a clinically diagnosable and seemingly treatable sleep disorder such as DSPS or DSPD.

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