What are Circadian rhythm disorders in insomnia?

Updated: Sep 11, 2018
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Circadian rhythm disorders include the following:

  • Advanced sleep phase syndrome

  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome

  • Shift-work sleep disorder

  • Irregular sleep-wake rhythm

In advanced sleep phase syndrome, patients feel sleepy earlier than their desired bedtime (eg, 8 pm) and they wake up earlier than they would like (eg, 4-5 am). This condition is more common in the elderly (see Geriatric Sleep Disorder). These patients typically complain of sleep-maintenance insomnia.

In delayed sleep phase syndrome, patients do not feel sleepy until much later than the desired bedtime, and they wake up later than desired or socially acceptable. On sleep diaries or actigraphy, these patients show a consistent sleep time with earlier wake times that correspond to school or work days and delayed wake times on weekends, time off, and vacations.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome often begins in adolescence and may be associated with a family history in up to 40% of patients. These patients report difficulty falling asleep at usually socially desired bedtimes and complain of excessive daytime sleepiness during school or work.

Shift-work sleep disorder is a complaint of insomnia or excessive sleepiness that typically is temporally related to a recurring work schedule that overlaps with the usual sleep time. This can occur with early morning shifts (eg, starting at 4-6 am), where patients are anxious about waking up in time for their early shift, particularly when they have a rotating-shift schedule. Evening shifts that end at 11 pm can result in insomnia because the patient may need some time to wind down from work before retiring to bed.

Night shift work can be associated with both sleep-onset and sleep-maintenance insomnia. Triggers may include exposure to sunlight on the drive home from work, daylight exposure in the bedroom, and social and environmental cues (eg, picking up children at school, paying bills, household chores).

Irregular sleep-wake rhythm is typically seen in persons with poor sleep hygiene, particularly those who live or work alone with minimal exposure to light, activity, and social cues. It may also be seen in persons with dementia or some other neurodegenerative disorder. These patients randomly nap throughout the day, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fall asleep at a habitual bedtime with a consolidated sleep period.

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