Irregular Sleep-wake Syndrome

Overview of irregular sleep-wake syndrome?

The night is the preferred time for sleep for most people. We sleep at night and wake in the morning. People who have irregular sleep-wake syndrome usually have an unstructured & perturbed sleep. This is a common condition according to statistics by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

People who experience irregular sleep-wake syndrome sleep between one to four hours daily. They may sleep several times over 24 hours. A 2009 research shows that the most prolong sleep session usually occurs between 2 am – 6 am. The medical community does not consider people with the irregular sleep-wake syndrome as sleep-deprived. They sleep well, only that their sleep is spread over a 24-hour timeline rather than concentrating it into 7 – 8 hours. People with sleep disorders may experience drowsiness and insomnia during the day.

irregular sleep-wake syndrome
Photo Credit: Reports Healthcare

What is the relationship between normal sleep & circadian rhythms?

To have a better understanding of the sleep-wake syndrome, one must understand the concept of circadian rhythm and how it related to sleep. Circadian rhythm refers to mental, physical, & behavioral changes in response to darkness and light. The human body has an internal clock, a 24-hour clock precisely. The clock regulates many processes in the body, such as the sleep-wake cycle.

Your brain produces a hormone that triggers the “tired” feeling. This hormone is known as melatonin. Melatonin is secreted in high amounts at night, or when it is dark. It plays a very important role in the regulation of sleep-wake cycles.

What causes irregular sleep-wake syndrome?

The major factor that contributes to an irregular sleep-wake syndrome is a partial absence of the circadian rhythm that regulates the periods of rest and wakefulness.

The risk of an irregular sleep-wake syndrome appears to be higher in people who don’t have a set schedule or daily routine.

The sleep-wake syndrome is more prevalent in older people. But then, age is not a risk factor per se. Age-related increases in psychiatric, neurological, and medical disorders contribute to the onset of this condition.

Certain factors not related to irregular sleep-wake syndrome can cause a temporary disruption in the sleep-wake circadian cycle. These include doing irregular work shifts (switching between day and night shifts) and traveling frequently among different time zones.

Is there a need for medical care?

It doesn’t constitute a medical emergency. It is normal to experience difficulty sleeping. But then, if it occurs regularly, you’ll have to see your doctor. This is important if you are unsure of any factor contributing to this disorder.

Diagnosing an irregular sleep-wake syndrome

Your doctor will inquire about your sleeping habits. You will also be asked whether you’ve got any underlying issues with sleepiness during the day or with insomnia.

An actigraph and a sleep diary may be used to help diagnose the condition. An actigraph looks like a watch. It tracks a person’s sleep-wake patterns. On the other hand, a sleep diary is a log of your sleep-time over a set period.

Your doctor will use these tools to keep track of your sleep for at least a week. A doctor will require at least three cycles of sleeping and waking over 24 hours to make a diagnosis.

How to control irregular sleep-wake syndrome

This condition doesn’t have any simple, straight-forward cure. But then, some lifestyle changes and therapies might help. Among these are:

  • Regulating your exposure to light. Expose yourself to blue and bright light during the day. It is also important that you increase your period of exposure. Regulate your exposure to computers and TV lights, especially at night. These devices emit blue light.
  • Supplement with melatonin.
  • Structure your day. This includes scheduling exercise, social events, and other activities.
  • Make your sleep environment comfortable and inviting.
  • Minimize the noise in and around your sleep environment.

The main aim of treatment is to boost sleep at night and enhance wakefulness during the day.

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