What is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS)?

"Sometimes I wake up grumpy … and sometimes I let her sleep."

Late sleepers like myself get a lot of teasing, and we take it with humor. We are the misfits, the insomniacs, the vampires, the night people. We are the one-in-667 people who have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. For us, a good morning’s sleep is no laughing matter.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is a condition of the body’s circadian, or biological, rhythms. People with DSPS cannot sleep until the early morning hours, and have difficulty waking up before noon. Complications of DSPS include insomnia, irritability, chronic fatigue, and depression.

The condition is also known as Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD), although it’s not literally a sleep disorder. People with DSPS will sleep a normal, healthy eight hours, but not at the same time as everyone else. Naturally, for people with DSPS, the nine-to-five workday can be a nightmare. DSPS affects every aspect of life, including family, work and social relationships, and one’s own sense of self-worth.

Symptoms of DSPS

People with DSPS may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • insomnia; unable to sleep during “normal” hours

  • alertness at night or in the early morning hours

  • falling asleep at approximately the same time every night (between midnight and 4 am)

  • if woken early, unable to go back to sleep

  • unable to nap during the day or go to sleep early, even if exhausted and/or sleep-deprived the night before

  • frustrated or emotionally over-wrought in the morning; groggy and tired all day

  • afflicted by headaches, chronic malaise, nausea or other physical symptoms of stress

  • prone to accidents at home or work; impaired reflexes

  • impaired mental acuity

  • using drugs or alcohol to induce sleep

  • feeling rested and refreshed if allowed to sleep until late morning/noon or later

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome may or may not be associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Personal Experience with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Despite a lifetime of dealing with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, I had no idea until recently that DSPS was a biological condition. I thought I was just a lazy cuss (and I am! but that’s another topic).

I’ve had DSPS since childhood, and I’m now in my mid-forties. I’ve always had trouble holding a day job. Worsening fatigue and depression caused me to quit or get fired. When I lost a job I’d be overwhelmed with relief at being able to rest again, but nagged by guilt and feelings of failure at my inability to function in the so-called normal world.

Not surprisingly, I became an artist. 

By necessity I’ve patterned my life around sleeping late. For me and others like me, rising early can cause everything from general malaise to debilitating depression, headaches, nausea, eating disorders, frustration and irritability, social dysfunction and extremes of neuroticism. A good morning’s sleep is the remedy for all of the above, but it’s not always easy. Next Page

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  1. I can relate to this. I’ve always had sleep problems ever since I was 14. In fact, I failed 1st period every grade in high school because I rarely showed up. When I did, It felt like I was half dreaming. I still do. At times I feel like I’m on auto-pilot because I’m so sleepy. It really sucks. The only upside to it is that the longer I stay awake the more creative and thoughtful I get. Which I think might contribute more to my insomnia. Excellent article.

  2. This is eye opening for me. I always thought i was just lazy. I almost always since i was 13 or so have stayed up until about 3 or 4am and slept til about noon to 1 pm. I am chronically fatigued during the day to the point where sometimes i feel i cannot keep my head up. Sometimes i feel as if i have lived in a dream world for the better part of my life. I never feel fully awake. I have a difficult time believing that anything is real most of the time. When i am sleeping i have always had vivid nightmares if I have a good dream its sexual and its usually at the very least mildly disturbing. I have always dealt with ridicule over this and i am sick of making excuses for what my body feels. If i wake up before noon i feel nauseous i cannot eat and barely function until well after noon. I feel less like a freak after i read about this.

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