Living with Chronic Pain

Alternative and Complementary Treatments for Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

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What is delayed sleep phase syndrome?

When the sleep-wake cycle is disrupted to the point that everyday activities are affected, it is considered a circadian rhythm disorder. One such disorder is delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). This condition is characterized by at least a two-hour delay (going to sleep at a later time and waking at a later time) in comparison to a standard sleep-wake cycle. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty waking in the morning, irritability, decreased alertness, and difficulty with concentration. DSPS is most common in teenagers and young adults.

It is important to note that individuals with delayed sleep phase syndrome do not choose to stay up late; their circadian rhythm, or internal clock, is delayed by two hours or more. Research suggests that genetics plays a role in the development of DSPS.

Alternative and complementary treatments

Much of the treatment for DSPS involves at-home treatments and changes in habitual behaviors. However, some alternative and complementary treatments are also available, including melatonin supplementation and acupuncture.

Melatonin supplementation

Melatonin, a hormone the body produces naturally, can be taken in supplemental form to help promote sleepiness. It can also help reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. It’s important to note that a health care provider should be consulted before beginning any new supplement.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture, a practice of traditional Chinese medicine, can help manage symptoms of DSPS. It involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the skin, which is thought to help rebalance the flow of energy in the body. In Western alternative medicine, acupuncture is thought to stimulate the nerves, muscles, and connective tissues. Many alternative medical professionals believe this stimulation increases natural pain-fighting chemicals and boosts blood flow in the body.

A randomized controlled trial of 84 individuals with DSPS found that acupuncture treatment increased sleep duration, reduced the number of nighttime awakenings, and improved daytime functioning.