Key Points about Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder

  • Circadian rhythm sleep disorder causes drowsiness during the day and restlessness at night.
  • A sleep medicine specialist diagnoses circadian rhythm sleep disorder using a physical exam, review of symptoms and analysis of your sleep log.
  • This condition can be treated with lifestyle modifications or medications.

Overview

The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural pattern of sleeping while it is dark outside and being awake when the sun is up. In individuals with a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, their sleep-wake patterns are out of sync with the natural pattern of day and night. If not properly diagnosed and managed, this condition may lead to serious complications, including an increased risk of heart and metabolic disorders.

Circadian rhythm sleep disorder causes 

Causes of this circadian rhythm sleep disorder can include:

  • Alzheimer’s 
  • Blindness
  • Brain infection, such as encephalitis
  • Brain injury
  • Certain medications or drugs
  • Jet lag (having recently traveled across time zones)
  • Stroke
  • Working third shift (overnight shift), or working irregular shifts

Circadian rhythm sleep disorder risk factors

Factors that put you at an increased risk for developing circadian rhythm sleep disorder are:

  • Being bedbound
  • Being blind
  • Having Alzheimer’s 
  • Having had a brain infection
  • Having recently traveled across time zones
  • Having suffered a stroke
  • Not being exposed to sunlight for a long period of time
  • Not having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time
  • Taking certain medications or drugs
  • Working irregular shifts
  • Working third shift

Circadian rhythm sleep disorder symptoms

Signs and symptoms of this condition can include:

  • Being sleepy or groggy during the day
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Irritability
  • Misusing alcohol or sleep aids
  • Misusing stimulants – such as caffeine – to stay awake during the day
  • Nausea
  • Not being able to sleep at night
  • Trouble thinking clearly

Circadian rhythm sleep disorder diagnosis

Your specialist will use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to diagnose circadian rhythm sleep disorder:

  • Physical exam. Your specialist will complete a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms related to a circadian rhythm sleep disorder.
  • Sleep log. Your specialist may ask you to keep a detailed sleep log that includes information on when you go to bed and get up, how many times you wake up during the night and other information.

Circadian rhythm sleep disorder treatment

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatments for circadian rhythm sleep disorder:

  • Lifestyle modifications. In many cases, this disorder can be managed with lifestyle modifications. You should expose yourself to sunlight (or artificial bright light) during the day when they should be awake. You should also make your bedroom as dark and calming as possible. Your specialist may recommend you try a sleep mask or white noise machine to help you relax and stay asleep longer.
  • Medications. If lifestyle modifications aren’t enough to control the symptoms of your circadian rhythm sleep disorder, your specialist may prescribe one or more medications. These medications include short-acting medications to help you sleep better, as well as medications that stimulate your brain during the day and help you stay more alert. Melatonin can also reduce the impact of jet lag and may help your body adjust to working overnight.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a sleep medicine provider for more specialized treatment.