Irregular Sleep-Wake Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

All of us are regulated by our circadian rhythms. These ‘internal body clocks’ are responsible for regulating our body temperatures, when hormones should be released, and even when we should sleep and wake up. Unfortunately for some, their circadian rhythms don’t work as well as they should and they have what’s known as an irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder. Unlike the majority who get their dose of sleep at night, it’s spaced out during the course of 24 hours. The disorder can lead to problems with work and family and may leave sufferers feeling isolated and lonely. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the disorder is more common in people with Alzheimer’s and those with disorders of the central nervous system.

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What Is Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder?

An irregular sleep-wake rhythm is a circadian rhythm disorder that involves disrupted sleep patterns. Instead of getting one’s quota of sleep in the night, it’s spread out over the course of 24 hours. People with this disorder take multiple naps in the day and have fragmented sleep at night. While they may receive the recommended total sleep time for their age, they do so in bits and pieces. There’s no main sleep time.

What Causes It?

Irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder is rare, and it’s not known exactly how many people have it. In addition, It’s not clear what exactly causes it either. However, it’s believed to be the result of a poorly functioning circadian rhythm. A lack of regular exposure to bright light and not following regular meal times may contribute to it. Age may be a factor too. As we grow older, our hormone levels decrease and impact circadian rhythms which could, in turn, contribute to irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder.

What Are The Symptoms?

There are several symptoms to watch for and risk factors that can increase the likelihood of having irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder.

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Frequent daytime naps
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up often at night

Irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder seems to be more common in people with neurological conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and brain damage. However, it can also occur in people who don’t have neurological issues.

How To Treat Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder

Light Therapy

Since irregular sleep-wake rhythm is a circadian rhythm disorder, treatment involves trying to reset the internal body clock through lifestyle changes and therapies. Light therapy may be prescribed wherein patients are exposed to bright but safe levels of light for a certain length of time. Such exposure is believed to adjust the circadian and help you sleep earlier at night.

Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin supplements may also be prescribed. Since melatonin helps you sleep at night, they can be helpful in treating the disorder. However, they’re not recommended for people with dementia.

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

Following good sleep hygiene is another way to treat the disorder as it adds structure to sleep routines and helps develop a habit of sleeping and waking at regular times.

Nix Daytime Naps

Daytime naps, especially long ones, can reduce sleep debt to the point where you don’t feel sleepy at night. One way to encourage sleep onset is to avoid taking naps even if you’re sleepy so that you can sleep better when night comes.

Use The Bed Only For Sleep And Sex

It’s tempting to watch television and even do a little work in bed. But when you do these, you no longer associate the bed only for sleep and sex concept. You shouldn’t do anything else so that when you hit the sack, you’ll be able to encourage sleep.

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Avoid Stimulants

Stimulants like caffeine is a great wake-me-up in the mornings but shouldn’t be had after 2 pm. It stays in the body for a very long time and can keep you up at night. You should also ditch nicotine as it stimulates the production of adrenaline and keeps you alert.

Have An Inviting Sleep Environment

It’s almost impossible to sleep well in a brightly-lit and noisy room. Your bedroom should be quiet, dark, and cool to let sleep come easily. The bed you sleep on should be comfortable too otherwise you’ll stay awake, conscious of every lump and sag in the mattress. Consider investing in a well-designed one that promotes sound sleep.

Nuvanna is one such mattress. Designed by an industry expert with over 20 years’ experience, it aims to provide better sleep for better health. The mattress features three layers and each has a function. The top layer keeps the body cool through innovative phase-changing gel particles that disperse body heat. The middle layer isolates motion so that you and your partner don’t disturb each other with your movements. The bottom layer prevents your body from sinking and keeps your spine aligned to prevent back pain.

Lifestyle has a big impact on your sleep. If you have irregular sleep-wake rhythm disorder, you should make the effort to follow good sleep habits and have a relaxing bedtime routine. Keep away from stimulants and use your bedroom as a place of sleep. Stay active during the day to tire yourself and keep away from sources of blue light like phones and laptops at night as they suppress melatonin production. You’ll soon have your sleep-wake rhythm back on track.


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