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Circadian Rhythm Disorder

What is the circadian rhythm?

The circadian clock is your “internal body clock.” This clock regulates bodily functions on a daily basis, including a person’s sleep habits. The rhythm generated by the internal clock is the circadian rhythm. Sleep and wakefulness follow a circadian rhythm.

What are circadian rhythm disorders?

When an individual’s internal circadian clock is not in sync with the external clock, it may result in the development of circadian rhythm disorder. The sleep disorder manifests as an inability to fall or stay asleep, as well as excessive daytime sleepiness, with significant impact on health outcomes and impairment in social and occupational performance.

What are the different types of circadian rhythm disorders?


Several types of circadian rhythm sleep disorders include:

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is commonly seen in adolescents or young adults, and is characterized by the inability to fall asleep until very late. These “night owls” are most productive at night, and can often be chronically tardy or inefficient for early obligations, like school or work.

Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder

Advanced sleep phase disorder is typically seen in the elderly. Those suffering from this sleep disorder tend to awaken very early in the morning and become very sleepy early in the evening.

Shift Work Disorder

Shift work disorder is seen in individuals who are constantly rotating shifts or work schedules, thus disrupting the internal circadian clock. This can result in insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Jet Lag

Jet lag occurs when the internal clock is thrown off due to travel into a new time zone. The body often takes an adjustment period to get back on a regular sleep cycle. When patients regularly travel between time zones, this can become a chronic sleep disorder.

What are the symptoms of circadian rhythm sleep disorders?

Some of the symptoms commonly seen in patients with a circadian rhythm disorder include:

  • Inability to fall asleep at night

  • Repeated awakenings in the middle of the sleep cycle

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Poor performance at work or school


What are the risk factors for circadian rhythm disorders?

The following factors may increase your risk of having or developing a circadian rhythm sleep disorder:

  • The tendency to be a “night owl”

  • Having family members with sleep disorders

  • Lack of exposure to morning sunlight

  • Excessive exposure to bright light in the evening

  • Poor sleep hygiene

  • An occupation that requires irregular shifts and work hours

  • Frequent travel between different time zones

How are circadian rhythm disorders diagnosed?

If you believe you may be suffering from a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, it is important to schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist, such as Dr. Malhotra, who can evaluate and diagnose your condition. Making a diagnosis typically begins with a physical examination, medical history, and sleep history evaluation.


What are our circadian rhythm disorders treatments?


Circadian rhythm sleep disorder treatments include:

  • Bright light therapy, which is used by sleep specialists to reset the circadian clock. It uses high-intensity lights to advance or delay sleep cycles.

  • Behavior therapy, also known as behavior modification, which is a treatment designed to help change some of a patient’s day-to-day behaviors that may be contributing to a circadian rhythm disorder. This may also include seeing a behavioral sleep psychologist.

  • Lifestyle modifications, which may consist of losing weight, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol, and other changes based on an individual’s needs.

  • Medical management, which may consist of prescribing medications or non-pharmaceutical therapies for the treatment of circadian rhythm disorders.

  • Sleep devices that improve sleep quality by adjusting the circadian internal clock and aligning it to the external clock.

If you believe you may be suffering from circadian rhythm disorder, it is important to see a doctor who specializes in sleep medicine in order to properly diagnose and treat your condition. 

Dr. Clerk is a board-certified sleep specialist, who is known for diagnosing and treating all kinds of sleep disorders for over 20 years. Call (408) 495-4532 today, or request an appointment today!

Request an Appointment Today!

O'Connor Health Center 1

455 O'Connor Drive, Suite #110 San Jose, CA 95128

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