Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder (Non-24)
When it comes to sleeping disorders, none of them are as strange and difficult to treat as the non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder. The average person has a day that revolves around a 24-hour period, with some variations from day-to-day. The non-24 sleep disorder has a 25 or 26-hour day, which can sometimes be even longer. This extended circadian rhythm will cause a person’s sleep and wake times to be pushed back a certain amount. Each day, their bedtime may get later and later, causing their wake time to follow suit.
This disorder affects approximately 50% of totally blind people due to their inability to perceive light. This causes a disruption of the 24-hour sleep-wake pattern, leading to a non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder. Although this disorder is considered to be rare, roughly 65,000 people in the U.S. suffer from it. Although any sleeping disorder can onset depression, anxiety or stress, the non-24 disorder can also cause instability within a person’s social and professional life.
Essentially, the body is insisting that the day is longer than 24 hours, and will not adjust to the external light and dark cues. Because the mind will not submit to reality, peak time of alertness, body temperature and hormone secretions will shift daily. A person’s sleep cycle may return to a normal sleep/wake cycle for 1–3 days before becoming offset again by the sleep disorder.
If you suspect your sleeping cycle has gone awry, but are unsure what could be causing it, keep a sleep journal. Write down when you felt tired, when you got into bed, when you fell asleep, if you woke up during the night, as well as what time you got up the next day. You may be able to see a trend of the sleep-wake times gradually getting later and later. This will help your doctor properly diagnose any sleep condition you may have.
Combating the non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder would typically start with trying to reset your circadian rhythm. Light therapy is the most common way to reset your internal clock, and is also used to fight off depression. Fighting this disorder will revolve around convincing your mind that a day is 24-hours, not any longer. Melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness, may also be used to help you sleep. Found in supplement form, taking melatonin may help you fall asleep at a reasonable time, helping your body to set and establish a bed time.
There is no known cure for non-24, only treatments to manage the sleep disorder. It will take time to notice any positive changes within your sleep conditions, so be patient. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder of any kind, make sure you keep a sleep journal as well as consult your primary care physician. If you do not have any sleep disorder, but still have trouble sleep, head over to our sleep tips for help falling and staying asleep!