Circadian Rhythm Disorder
The Causes

A circadian rhythm disorder is a condition that disrupts the timing of an individual's sleep patterns. This might not sound like a serious problem, as people who suffer from this sleep disorder are able to get sufficient rest if allowed to follow their own body clocks. However, not being able to sleep at specific times that society dictates makes it difficult to do things like: get to work on time, make it to class, attend meetings punctually etc. People who suffer from circadian rhythm disorders generally get good quality sleep, it's just that they can't keep the same sleep times as other "normal" sleepers.

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The body's internal clock naturally follows a schedule of biological processes throughout a 24-hour period. A regular disruption of these natural patterns often results from a contradiction between an individual's internal (or body) clock and their environment. A circadian rhythm disorder can hamper daily performance in other aspects of a person's life including work, school, musical or artistic performances as well as other social functions.

Circadian rhythm disorders can be categorized into two types:

  1. Extrinsic
    - where outside forces affect our sleeping patterns, including:
    • Jet Lag
      Occurs when people travel over time zones and their body clock is not in sync with the new time.
    • Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD)
      Most commonly plagues those with shifts that prevent regular sleep times. Doctors and nurses are two professionals who are likely to suffer from this. Varying work schedules that may run all night long prevent a person from creating a regular sleep schedule, which prevents them from benefiting from healthy sleep cycles.

  1. Intrinsic
    - where our body's clock is affecting our sleep schedule, which includes:
    • Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD)
      This is common among those who consider themselves night owls. In this case, a person stays up very late, usually past 2 am, and has difficulty waking up in the morning.
    • Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPS) a.k.a Advanced Sleep Phase Type (ASPT)
      Patients suffering from ASPS are so tired that they usually go to bed early in the evening - say around 7pm, and end up waking up very early in the morning - around 2am.
    • Irregular Sleep Wake Rhythm
      Someone suffering from this sleep disorder typically sleeps frequently throughout the day, waking up multiple times at night and taking naps throughout the day.
    • Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome (non-24)
      With this disorder, a person is able to get a full night's rest but their sleep schedule moves back later and later each day – moving their period of peak alertness with it.

    When a circadian rhythm disorder begins to negatively affect an individual's life, it is time for a change. Some treatments include bright light therapy and chronotherapy, which help reset a person's internal clock. Since people suffering from the extrinsic forms of circadian rhythm sleep disorders are actually able to get a full night's rest (7-9 hours) in many cases, they must consider whether keeping this erratic sleep schedule is viable. If you suffer from this sleep disorder and you're one of the unlucky ones whose sleep suffers because of your job, ultimately you may have to make a choice between healthy sleep and living versus a healthy paycheck.