xxi. Is it life-long?

17 December 2005 at 04:48 | Posted in Circadian rhythm | 5 Comments
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When does Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome start?  Does it get “better” / “worse”? 

I don’t think definitive answers are to be found.  I’ll offer here my impressions, based on reading and contact with other sufferers. 

Adolescent DSPS seems to be a special case.  The hormone surge at puberty gives some people all the symptoms of DSPS, even though they didn’t have it before and won’t have it after adolescence.  There are activist groups in the USA working for later starting times for high school classes because of this, and they have no trouble finding expert support for their struggles.  I’ve even read that teenagers with this problem most often return to their original diurnal preference:  cheerful early riser or grumpy late riser.  More systematic study would be in order here.

DSPS does not start later than in adolescence except in very unusual cases.  Certain brain injuries, tumors or cysts can cause it.  I’ve read of one case where acquired hydrocephalus created pressure which caused DSPS.  Onset after about age 20 requires a search for a physical cause, if the tumor or injury hasn’t manifested itself already.

In retrospect, the parents of many DSPS sufferers remember that there “always” was something strange about their sleeping patterns.  And what infant doesn’t have strange sleeping patterns?  Parental memories are colored by knowledge of how their children “turned out”, so any remotely scientific study of those memories sounds to be out of the question.  Perhaps it might be possible to search the journals of early childhood clinic visits for mention of sleep problems and compare with later diagnoses of sleep disorders.

A newborn has no circadian rhythm.  It is first established at the age of about 4 months.

Usually DSPS appears in early childhood.  My intuition would say that it always does, but I’ve discussed this with reliable people who are quite sure that they slept normally pre-puberty.

In sum, the disorder starts in early adolescence or earlier.  An adolescent variety may end as adulthood begins.  DSPS which hasn’t gone away by one’s mid-20s, is not going to go away.  Its nature is not going to change through the years.  Its effects on the sufferer will vary according to work schedule, other societal demands, coping strategies and diagnosis/treatment.



Next post:  xxii. How to tackle DSPS



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  1. I think I’ve got adult-onset DSPS, secondary to developing ME/CFIDS at 19, although that doesn’t take us far out of the years of teenage sleep so it’s hard to tell. My sleep disorders gradually worsened, turning into N24, as the ME deteriorated and I got less and less sunlight, eventually becoming almost entirely housebound. By now I’ve got the sleep pretty much under control with light and darkness therapies, and from what I’ve since found, either my orange specs are true miracle workers (since most people seem to be using melatonin tablets instead), or I have reacted better to these therapies than other DSPS and N24 sufferers. I’m wondering if the adult onset and the way that my sleep disorders are secondary rather than primary means that I can respond better to these treatments?

  2. Your guess is as good as anybody’s. Well, not just anybody’s, but anyone’s whose studied this stuff as much as you and I have.

  3. You seem to have studied it a lot more than I have! I confess to still being baffled by those phase response curves.

    It’s rather alarming that we’re considered the experts, isn’t it. Why can’t I go to a doctor about this and actually get some help?!

  4. LOL. From the moment I decided I WAS going to understand PRCs until the time I did, it took about six months.

    Quote of the day: “It’s rather alarming that we’re considered the experts, isn’t it.”
    Some of the researchers may be more expert than you and I and my co-author here are. The MDs are not.

  5. I know my DSPS started when I was a small child. My mother would substantiate this. Sometimes she tells me a story that when I was only about 5 years old she woke me up at the normal time to go to school and left me to dress on my own. She came back ten minutes later to find me sitting on my bed with one leg through a pair of underwear (all I was wearing) and staring at the ceiling motionless. She asked me what I was doing and I responded, “I’m looking for my shoes,” in a very dreamy and distant voice.

    I always had major problems getting up for school in the morning. Sometimes my brother would be forced to hold the bus for me as I was racing out of the door pulling on clothes and dragging my book bag. Mornings were a waste at school. Later on in college I learned never to take a class that started at 8:00am. I simply couldn’t make it to class. One class I was forced to take for my degree was only offered at 8:00am. Thank goodness it was a giant lecture hall class and attendance wasn’t taken because I missed at least 3/4 of the time. I did all of my homework because I simply followed the syllabus. The tests were administered later in the day in a “lab session” so I did just fine on my tests.

    I am 42 now and I have been given various diagnoses that seem to be related to DSPS throughout the years like Fibromyalgia and Depression. Most likely I have endogenous depression though because that runs in the family too.

    Anyway, I just thought I’d chime in stating that I know that my DSPS started when I was a small child. Most likely it was evident by the time I was 3 years old.

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