by Tanya Kaufman; Denver School of Science and Technology (Denver, CO)

“I will regularly go to bed after one in the morning and get less than four hours of sleep…Yeah, actually, a lot of the time. I think I’m just adjusted to going to sleep at that late at night and running on so little sleep,” says Monet Leleua, 18, a student at the Denver School of Science and Technology.

Many teens suffer from Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder. What is that? Credit:

Many teens, including myself, may suffer from something called, “Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome” (DSPS). According to Harvard Medical School, doing homework into the early hours of the night is often a habit teens with DSPS may identify with. According to sleep professionals from Sleep Disorders Australia, about 7% percent of all adolescents suffer from DSPS.

According to the Circadian Sleep Disorders Network, three to four hours of sleep is what students with DSPS get. When an adolescent reaches adulthood, DSPS typically fades away in most cases.

Many teens already have a delayed sleep cycle due to their body changing, but DSPS makes it even worse. According to Athens Sleeping Center in Athens, TX, a person who has DSPS has their circadian rhythm—the daily cycle based on 24-hour intervals—off by an hour or two. Teens with DSPS usually experience: falling asleep in the day, inability to fall asleep, inability to wake up, some behavioral issues, and possibly depression.

 “I would definitely say number one don’t study in bed. We relate bed with sleep so if you have made a common practice of studying in bed; that’s going to affect your sleep quality in that you might relate bedtime with studying. So rather than relax and fall asleep, your wheels might be turning. You might be doing math problems in your head or thinking of solutions,” explained Tom Allen, Registered Polysomnography Technician at The Exempla Lutheran Center in Denver, CO.

DSPS stems from studying in bed and going to bed at early hours of the morning, which causes a chemical hormone called melatonin to not function properly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland. For a person without DSPS, your body starts to increase melatonin levels around 9 pm. The Foundation also says that the melatonin levels stay elevated for 12 hours. So for people with DSPS, this must mean that if they go to bed at 1 am, they only start to feel awake after 1 pm in the afternoon.

According to WebMD, if you keep the light on because, most likely, you are doing homework, the light tells your body that it is time to wake up and your melatonin production decreases when it needs to increase. According to the National Sleep Foundation, melatonin is located in the hypothalamus of the brain is released that tells your brain that you are sleepy. According to WebMD, when you turn off the lights to go to sleep, your melatonin levels increase which helps you fall asleep faster. In DSPS, melatonin is delayed from being released.

According to the Circadian Sleep Disorders Network, there are many ways—if you do have DSPS—to have treatments. One is shining lights in your eyes every morning. That’s the easy, cost-free way. However, like other sleep disorders, you can also get a medicine that your doctor prescribes for this disorder. That’s the second option. The third and final treatment is reporting to a sleep professionals the amount of hours you slept, adjusting your sleeping routine until you have found your body’s circadian rhythm.

 I usually heat up chamomile tea to sleep better. Chamomile has ingredients that have nutrients to help your body ease into sleep quicker, according to WebMD. 

In addition, melatonin can be taken in pill form for things like jet lag, and for people who have trouble falling asleep, like DSPS or insomnia, increasing melatonin levels to help them go to sleep. You can get a Sleep Test, or its formal name, Sleep Latency Test, by a sleep professional to test whether you actually have DSPS.  

According to the Circadian Sleep Disorders Network, DSPS has a long term side effect of sleep deprivation, and this can have serious long term health consequences.   

Tanya Kaufman


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