Blog post

Chronicles of an Insomniac: Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder

March 9, 2019

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I absolutely hate when we “Spring Forward” for Daylight Savings time. Now “Fall back” is my jam. I hate winter and the cold…so why, oh why would I not be so chipper like the rest of society about bumping the clock up an hour? 

Because insomnia.

I have had sleep problems for the last ten years. Back in 2009, I had just graduated from high school and my sleep center just went out of whack. Ever since, I have been dealing with chronic insomnia and trying ever so desperately to find sleep. To no avail. 

I have tried it all…I’m talking Melatonin, Ambien, Lunesta, herbal remedies, Light Box Therapy, and recently I even tried a float spa. For those who have have sleep problems, you know how frustrating this can be. 

I went to the first sleep doctor about 4 years ago back in Pennsylvania. He diagnosed me with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder after a few visits and no luck from CBT-I, which is cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia.

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) is a circadian rhythm disorder that develops in childhood or adolescence. Basically, your sleep clock is out of whack and your circadian rhythm cycle is longer than the average person’s 24 hour clock. With DSPD, you can try to be on a regular schedule all you want but your body will just laugh and say, “Hold my beer.”

The bummer? There is no cure.

The sleep specialist I went to back then basically told me to work a second shift/night shift job or move to a different time zone…

Back when I worked at Verizon Wireless after college as a sales rep, I slept so hard on days where I wasn’t scheduled to go in until 12:30PM. After leaving retail, I entered a different industry and the days of late shifts were long gone. So I kept on keeping on and have continued to take my nightly 50mg-75mg of Benadryl per night. 

In 2017, I tried another online CBT-I program called SHUTi (Sleep Healthy Using The Internet) and while it definitely helps if you have want to learn how to have better sleep hygiene, it was a wasted $160 for me. I was already doing everything that the program recommended but it was still worth a shot.

Note: This program is no longer available for purchase for an individual’s use.

My next hope and dream came when I went to Switzerland in August of 2018. I prayed so hard that the significant time change would reset my sleep clock. As in, I was so hopeful at the prospect that I would come home and sleep problems would be a thing of the past. A girl can dream, right?

No such luck. I literally had no jet lag after travelling for over 25 hours straight and Nick (while he knows I am an insomniac) was so confused that I didn’t have even a bit of jet lag. I came home and got up early a few days then unfortunately bounced right back to my abnormal circadian rhythm. 

The trip was still AMAZING, though. Check out this post to see just how awesome it ended up being!

When my sleep started degrading even more at the end of last year, I went to my Primary Care Physician. She had me try a few more prescriptions. Nothing. So she put in a referral to a local sleep physician. I figured I would give it one more shot with a different sleep doctor. Maybe she would have a magic cure?

I had to wait a few months to get in due to her busy schedule but finally saw her earlier this week. I gave her the rundown on my entire history and she advised that it definitely is Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder and that I’m already doing everything I should be doing (white noise machine, blackout curtains, cool temperature for sleep, etc.) However, she wanted me to do a sleep study just because I have never had one before and there is a very slight chance that it could be central apnea. That probably isn’t the case but after 10 years of this, might as well rule it out. She advised there is no concern taking the Benadryl long term (there are articles out there stating that longtime use can cause memory impairment issues.)

I was pretty depressed the rest of the day finding out that there really is no magic cure for DSPD.  

The only thing that I don’t do as far as good sleep hygiene is waking up at the same time on weekends as I do during the week.  I tried this multiple times during the CBT-i with the first sleep specialist and then again with SHUTi. This really didn’t help me at all and I actually felt even more run down because my sleep clock didn’t actually change. So I use weekends to “catch up” on sleep and notice if I’m able to go to bed when I *actually* am tired in the wee hours of the morning, I can actually sleep a full 8 hours. Those days are glorious.

For now, I will continue my night owl ways and pray that someday this sleep disorder will magically disappear…

Things That Help *A Little*

If you have sleep problems, I strongly recommend you consult with your physician as I am no doctor and a qualified person is way better suited to help you. However, here’s a few things that over the years at least help my sleep quality. Something’s better than nothing, right? 

Lectrofan’s White Noise Machine

This little gem has probably been one of the things that has helped me the most. Not only do I have DSPD but I also am an incredibly light sleeper when I am asleep. Any little sound will wake me up. I have used this White Noise Machine for the last 5 years and honestly wouldn’t even be able to attempt sleep without it. I love it so much that I actually purchased the mini version for when I travel! 

Blackout Curtains

My fiance calls me the “light monster” because I absolutely hate when it is morning and there is light in the room. Part of this is due to getting my best sleep in the morning hours (trust me, waking up for work is HARD) and light just pisses me off. That being said, blackout curtains are this girls best friend. On weekends, I can sleep how my body actually wants to sleep and with no light entering the room…I actually will wake up feeling good.

A Cool Room

So this one is strange for me to say because I absolutely HATE the cold. Like, hate it. However, at night I get super warm in bed. I need the room to be in the 60’s otherwise I will wake up numerous times with night sweats. Yuck! To solve for that, we have an EcoBee Smart Thermostat to control the temperature from our smartphones. This is very hepful when I need to crank the temperature down in the middle of the night. 

A Blue Light Filter

Did you know that blue light can actually cause your body to inhibit melatonin production? This blue light can seriously mess with your circadian rhythm. For that reason, I always have my blue light filter on my Samsung Galaxy S9 turned on and actually use the free F.Lux software on my laptop. I can’t say these blue light filters greatly help me but they certainly don’t hurt.

Are you a fellow insomniac? I’d love to hear about your journey and if you have had luck with any sleep techniques.

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