Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder belongs to the group of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders. When a person has this disorder, his sleep times are not in alignment with what we consider as normal sleep times.
A person with this disorder sleeps a bit later every day. He also wakes up a bit later as a result. As this happens, his sleep time and wake time moves later and later as the disorder progresses. The said person may find his sleep times go in and out of alignment as time goes by.
Circadian Rhythm is normally around 24 hours for those without this disorder. With the help of morning light, the Circadian Rhythm or Sleep-wake Cycle gets reset to a 24-hr schedule. When light is absent, this clock will not reset. As a result, a person’s sleep time veers away from the normal sleep schedule. This is why most of those who suffer from Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Cycle are blind or those who suffer from vision impairment. However, it is not uncommon for those with normal vision to get this disorder.
What are the symptoms of this disorder?
The range of symptoms of Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder can happen at night and during the day. These symptoms can be mild or severe. The symptoms vary from person to person. Symptoms include:
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Waking up feeling drowsy or unrested
- Daytime sleepiness
- Lack of concentration
- Sleep patterns are different from most people
- Sleeping time becomes progressively later
What causes this disorder?
Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder is a disorder that affects the blind. In the United States alone, 1.3 million people are legally blind while 130,000 are totally blind. Among those who are totally blind, up to 70% suffer from Non-24. This is a result of their inability to perceive light.
The human eyes have two primary functions. A human’s eyes’ first function is to see. Its second function is to take in light. The light that the eyes take in signals the time of day to the brain. As mentioned earlier, light plays a huge role in regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Without light, this cycle goes out of sync.
However, this doesn’t mean that this disorder is limited to just the blind. Sighted people can also have this disorder. It is rare but not impossible. Sighted people can have this disorder if they have abnormal responses to light exposure. It can also be caused by abnormal levels of natural hormones like melatonin, or the lack of natural light or social cues.
Is there a treatment for Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Cycle?
Yes, there are ways to relieve the symptoms of this disorder. The existing treatment for this disorder is aimed towards resetting the Circadian Rhythm. The end goal is to allow a person to have one long sleep time during the night, and one long period of wakefulness during the day.
For blind patients, timed melatonin is one possible treatment. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This hormone gets released by the pineal gland. The release of Melatonin gets triggered by the absence of light after a long period of taking it in. A sleep specialist can work with a blind patient to determine the best time and dosage of melatonin that can help them fall asleep. Melatonin supplements can be a replacement for natural melatonin
Patients can take medications like Tasimelteon. Tasimelteon is a melatonin receptor. It imitates melatonin that binds and activates the melatonin. Tasimelteon can help a person have a more regular Circadian Rhythm by artificially increasing melatonin.
Sighted people, on the other hand, can use light treatment as a means of helping a weakened body clock. In light therapy, the eyes are exposed to intense but safe amounts of light. This is done during a specific and regular length of time.
Artificial light is also used to affect the body clock in the same way that sunlight does. This is especially helpful for those who live in places where sunlight is not available at the proper time.
Getting behavioral counseling can also be helpful. This can help a person have good sleeping habits. Good sleep hygiene is vital towards maintaining one sleep time.
Maintaining a regular 24-hour sleep-wake cycle is vital towards getting daily sleep and rest. There are those, however, who are unable to do so. When a person has Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Cycle, that person is unable to maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle. His sleeping and waking time is out of sync from those who don’t have this disorder. As a result, his work and personal life may get affected. That person will find himself awake while most people are sleeping, and asleep when he should be active and productive.
If you have this disorder, a sleep specialist can provide much-needed help so you get your sleep-wake cycle back to normal.