Circadian rhythm sleep disorder – causes, side effects and treatments at

Friday, February 16, 2018 by

Circadian rhythm sleep disorder is the collective term for a group of conditions wherein a person’s circadian rhythm is disrupted. The circadian rhythm is the name given to the internal clock that regulates an organism’s biological and physiological processes across a 24-hour cycle. Body temperature, cellular regeneration, and hormone production are all affected by the circadian rhythm.

There are several types of circadian rhythm sleep disorder, with some of the most common ones being:

  • Jet lag: People who travel from one time zone to another will experience this disorder. The symptoms will be more severe and significant the greater the difference between time zones. Although a temporary condition, some individuals will have greater difficulty adjusting to the new time and may experience the symptoms of jet lag (irritability, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness) for one week or longer.
  • Advanced sleep phase disorder (ASP): This condition is more prevalent among middle-aged and older adults. Having ASP causes an individual to go to sleep and wake up earlier than most people. Often, when people with ASP wake up in the early morning, they’re unable to go back to sleep and tend to become exhausted in the early afternoon.
  • Shift work sleep disorder: People who work night shifts or rotating shifts are prone to this. For those who work the night shift, their working hours force them to sleep during daytime to compensate for lost sleep at night. Unfortunately, their sleep is usually fragmented during the day due to the human brain being programmed for wakefulness at this time. For those who work rotating shifts, their bodies are unable to settle on a sleeping pattern because of their changing work schedules.

Numerous factors can cause a person to develop a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Light, physical activity, social activities, and melatonin levels all influence sleep, so interruptions to any of these can throw off a person’s circadian rhythm. Furthermore, some specific medical conditions and medications increase the risk of circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Amphetamines, steroids, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors stimulate the body and make it more difficult to sleep. People who have congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and dementia are more susceptible to this disorder.

Known side effects of circadian rhythm sleep disorder

Regardless of which type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder a person has, the symptoms tend to be the same across the board. These include:

  • Coordination problems
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Decreased cognitive skills
  • Depression
  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Not feeling refreshed after sleeping
  • Poor concentration

Body systems harmed by circadian rhythm sleep disorder

People who have circadian rhythm sleep disorder will usually display signs that their brains are being affected by the irregular sleeping patterns (e.g. poor concentration and coordination problems). Their immune systems and digestive systems may be negatively impacted as well, with the latter increasing the risk of altered bowel movements.

Food items or nutrients that may prevent circadian rhythm sleep disorder

The relationship between food and circadian rhythm is a connection that has only been heavily scrutinized in recent years. Through this, researchers were able to discover various foods and beverages can enhance a person’s sleep quality. As per, these are:

  • Almonds: These nuts are a natural source of the sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin, and of magnesium, a mineral that’s thought to reduce stress hormone levels.
  • Chamomile tea: Apigenin, one of the antioxidants in chamomile tea, can encourage sleepiness and curb insomnia.
  • Fatty fish: Thanks to their exceptional vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids content, eating fatty fish before bed can improve a person’s quality of sleep.
  • Kiwi: More than their anti-inflammatory antioxidants, the serotonin in kiwis has been found to help regulate the sleep cycle.
  • Turkey: The tryptophan content of turkey is what makes it good for sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that boosts melatonin production.

Treatments, management plans for circadian rhythm sleep disorder

Treating a circadian rhythm disorder will depend on its type and how much it affects a person’s quality of life. In general, there is a wide array of treatment options to choose from, including but not limited to:

  • Chronotherapy: This involves either advancing or delaying a person’s sleep scheduled by several hours to help them settle on an appropriate sleeping schedule. Chronotherapy will require several sessions over the span of a few months to achieve long-lasting results.
  • Bright light therapy: People who opt for this will have their circadian clocks reset by way of bright lights that mimic natural light. Exposure to bright lights can take as much as two hours.
  • Medication: Melatonin can be purchased as an over-the-counter drug. Benzodiazepines may be prescribed as well, though this is cautioned against since they can be addictive.

Making the bedroom more conducive to sleep can help, as can lifestyle changes like avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants. Engaging in quiet activities before sleeping have been shown to promote good sleep too.

Where to learn more


Circadian rhythm sleep disorder is the general term for conditions in which the circadian rhythm is disrupted. There are various types of circadian rhythm sleep disorders, but they have the same symptoms. Daytime sleepiness, difficulty falling asleep, and headaches are just some of the signs that a person has this condition. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available to overcome circadian rhythm sleep disorder, including chronotherapy and bright light therapy. Moreover, a person can improve their sleep quality by eating specific foods, avoiding stimulants, and making their bedroom better suited for sleep.

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