Circadian rhythm disorder refers to a group of disorders characterized by sleep that is out of synch with one's natural rhythm or what is considered a healthy sleep cycle. Jet lag causes temporary disruptions to a person's circadian rhythm, while other types - routinely falling asleep at 4 a.m. and waking up too early, a phenomenon seen in many adolescents -- cause disrupted sleeping and waking patterns that can lead to chronic insomnia. If you suffer from a sleep problem associated with a disruption to your biological clock, there are a number of treatment options to consider, including behavioral modifications and medications.
By Ellie McGrath
Love can be blind and, for a while, even deaf. I was somewhat aware that my husband-to-be had a snoring problem, but I didn't realize the extent until a friend he had traveled with presented us with an unusual wedding present: a black collar studded with little electrodes. Whenever my husband snored, he'd get a harmless electric shock that would wake him him up — with the goal of conditioning him to stop snoring altogether. After a few nights, though, my husband called for...
Chronotherapy. This behavioral treatment consists of gradually shifting the sleep time in accordance with your desired schedule. For example, if you have trouble getting to sleep at your desired bedtime, you would delay your bedtime by a few hours each night until you reach your desired bedtime hour. The reverse would be true if you are falling asleep earlier than your desired bedtime; you would then advance your bedtime by a few hours each night until the desired bedtime is achieved. Once your desired bedtime has been established, you must adhere to this schedule on a regular basis.
Bright light therapy. People who have a circadian rhythm disorder respond well to light therapy, especially bright light therapy. A sleep specialist will advise you on the appropriate timing, strength and duration of the light therapy, as it will vary based on your individual needs.
Enhancing environmental cues. Keep a dark and quiet room during sleep and a well-lit room upon awakening. Avoid bright light exposure in the evening and enforce regular hours for eating and other activities.
Tips to Promote Sound Sleep
As always, maintaining good "sleep hygiene," or sleep-promoting behavior, is important to treating any sleep problem, including circadian rhythm disorders. Here are some tips:
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.