What is delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)?

Javier A. Hiriart, MD
Internal Medicine
Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is a common condition among adolescents and teenagers. This biological, age-related condition is due to a delay in the internal circadian clock, which makes it hard to fall asleep and postpones the sleep-wake cycle. Most teenagers’ biological clocks are set to delay going to sleep, but some kids are more sensitive to this. When it takes two to four hours to fall asleep every night, over time, the body becomes chronically sleep deprived. Not being able to wake up in the morning and poor school performance are often the result.
Delayed sleep phase syndrome occurs most often in young adults when the time of onset of sleep is shifted later. The misalignment is stable, and normal sleep occurs once the individual falls asleep. However, it may be extremely difficult for these individuals to arise at normal times for school or work demands. This can develop when individuals stay up late on weekend nights before going to bed early on Sunday night, and this results in sleep onset insomnia and difficulty arising the next morning. Circadian rhythm disorders are best controlled by going to sleep and waking around the same time on all nights (i.e., sleep hygiene).
Delayed sleep phase affects seven percent to 10 percent of teens. It occurs when the adolescent’s body clock cycle shifts so it doesn’t match the desired sleep/wake cycle.

Delayed sleep phase is characterized by two factors: an inability to fall asleep at an appropriate time and an inability to wake up at an appropriate time.
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Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
One of the most straightforward manifestations of insomnia is delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). This is when your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, gets delayed.

If you have DSPS, you don't have trouble falling asleep when your body is ready, but you might not be sleepy until the wee hours of the morning. The real problem arises when work, family, or school requires you to wake up bright and early, leaving you with only a few hours of sleep.
Scott M. Leibowitz, MD
Sleep Medicine

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is a circadian rhythm disorder where people have difficulties falling asleep at conventional times and difficulties waking up at conventional times. Watch this video to learn more from Dr. Scott Leibowitz about delayed sleep phase syndrome.

Continue Learning about Sleep Disorders

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.