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Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome: Causes & Treatment | Sleep Reset

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Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, or DSWPD, is a sleep condition that is especially common in children and adolescents. It is also sometimes referred to as delayed sleep phase syndrome or DSPS. If you have trouble falling asleep and waking up at normal times, you may be dealing with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder.

Read on to learn more about delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, its symptoms, diagnosing DSWPD, and how you can treat it.

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What Is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome?

Delayed sleep phase syndrome can be described as a sleep disorder that causes someone’s sleep to be delayed by two hours or more. This delay is two hours or more than the conventional bedtime or the scheduled bedtime you create for yourself based on your lifestyle. When you’re consistently having trouble falling asleep and waking up at the right time, then delayed sleep-wake phase disorder could be the culprit.

Children who have this disorder may go to bed late on school nights, feel groggy when they wake up, and sleep in for a long time on weekends. An adult with the disorder may try to go to bed at a decent hour to be ready for work in the morning, but find themselves tossing and turning for hours before they can fall asleep, causing them to feel sleepy and fatigued at work the next day. People with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder may find that they’re more alert during the evening hours and at night.

Common Symptoms

Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder will have several symptoms that you may notice and that may help you diagnose the cause of your sleep difficulties. 

These symptoms include:

  • Trouble falling asleep and waking up at your scheduled sleep time: This is the most common symptom of the disorder. You try to go to sleep at a scheduled time and you’re unable to, and you have trouble waking up when you want to. When you try to wake up, you’ll likely feel groggy and you won’t feel as refreshed since you didn’t get to bed at the time that would have let you get the hours of sleep you needed.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness: Since you’re not getting enough hours of sleep, you may feel sleepy and groggy during the day. This can also make it more difficult to focus at work or school.
  • Mood problems: When you don’t get enough sleep, you may become irritable during the day. You may also increase your risk for mood disorders like depression and anxiety
  • Feeling the need for caffeine: As a result of your lack of sleep, you may feel more dependent on stimulants like caffeine
  • No sleep problems otherwise: One symptom that helps to differentiate delayed sleep-wake phase syndrome from other sleep disorders is the fact that all of the other symptoms resolve when a sleep schedule isn’t necessary (e.g., if you’re on vacation and you can easily fall asleep, stay asleep, and feel rested). Typically, the pressure of a necessary sleep schedule will cause a delay in the sleep clock, bringing on delayed sleep-wake phase syndrome.

Causes of DSPS

The cause of delayed sleep phase syndrome is not completely clear. It is, however, a relatively common sleep disorder for children and adolescents. Some experts think that the disorder may be caused by the internal clock shifting after puberty, however, this may just be one potential cause. 

As mentioned, this disorder is most commonly seen in adolescents and children. In rare cases, it can be seen with young adults and adults. With that being said, if you’re an adult, it’s likely that a different sleep disorder is the cause of your sleep difficulties.

What Are the Health Effects?

Delayed sleep phase syndrome can have several effects on your health. When you’re not getting enough sleep, you can feel fatigued and have difficulties at work or school. Good quality sleep contributes to both our physical and mental health. It’s essential to get enough sleep so you are able to function normally in your daily life and so that you don’t increase your risk for adverse health effects. 

Some of the consequences of lack of sleep include:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Mood changes
  • Memory issues
  • Weight gain
  • Trouble concentrating 

It can also increase your risk for various health conditions. Good sleep is essential at any age.


Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder is typically diagnosed by telling a doctor your symptoms. Keeping a sleep journal of your sleep habits can also help determine the nature of your sleep disorder. On occasion, a sleep study may be recommended to find out if any other sleep disorders could be the cause of your sleep problems.


As with many sleep disorders, delayed sleep-wake phase disorder is very treatable. Often, it can be treated by making lifestyle changes to promote better sleep. There are a few different treatments that may be recommended to treat delayed sleep phase syndrome.

Good sleep hygiene

Good sleep hygiene involves creating a comfortable sleep environment and forming healthy sleep habits. Good sleep hygiene can help those with delayed sleep-wake phase syndrome maintain a normal sleep schedule and fall asleep at the right time. Let’s look at some good sleep hygiene habits to form:

The sleep environment: Make sure the environment you’re sleeping in promotes sleep. This means that the room is dark, cool, and quiet. The bedding and mattress should also be comfortable.

Sleep habits: There are several good sleep habits that those with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder should form. These habits include: 

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Avoiding caffeine later in the day
  • Dimming electronics and switching them to night mode near bedtime
  • Avoiding big meals near bedtime
  • Developing a relaxing sleep routine to do before bed; breathing exercises and light stretching can help relax your body and ready it for sleep
  • Exercising during the day; exercising close to bedtime may give you too much excess energy to fall asleep on time
  • Not tossing and turning in bed; if you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, take a brief break and try again later

Making a schedule shift

When you’re treating delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, you’ll need to shift your bedtime to get your internal clock on track. This involves either shifting your internal clock forward or shifting it back.

  • Shifting your clock forward: This method shifts your bedtime gradually until you start falling asleep at the time you want to. If you want to fall asleep at 9 p.m., start by going to sleep at 11 p.m. and then move your bedtime forward 15 minutes each night.
  • Shifting your clock back: This method makes your bedtime later, shifting it one hour or more each night until you have the bedtime you want. This method involves a later bedtime each night.

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule

Once a sleep schedule is determined, it’s important to stick to it as strictly as possible. The temptation to sleep in or stay up late on weekends and other days off can make this difficult, but prioritizing sleep is essential when you’re trying to treat a sleep disorder. Once you’re able to maintain your sleep schedule for an extended period, you’ll be able to fall asleep and wake up at the right time much more consistently without feeling groggy or drowsy.

Light therapy

Light therapy is a method that some people find helpful when dealing with delayed sleep-wake phase disorder. This exposes you to bright light to help your body adjust its circadian rhythm and get you back on track. If possible, it’s also a good idea to get a lot of natural light during the day. Your circadian rhythm is largely determined by light, so getting outside during the day can definitely help to get your sleep on track.

As a last resort, some people may try melatonin or other sleep supplements. The problem with these is that the side effects like grogginess may be worse than the side effects you’re already dealing with from your delayed sleep-wake phase disorder. If you’re looking for a no-pills, natural sleep solution, Sleep Reset can help.

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Getting your sleep back on track can be difficult to do on your own. With Sleep Reset, you’ll get a personalized sleep program that is backed by science and proven sleep methods to help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling rested. With Sleep Reset, there are no pills and no supplements, so there are no drowsy side effects to worry about.

Sleep Reset will assess your sleep needs and design your plan around your lifestyle and sleep problems. You’ll get access to our sleep app and sleep tracking, and you’ll also have your own dedicated sleep coach who will help you every step of the way.

Take our sleep assessment today to find out how Sleep Reset can help you sleep better and sleep deeper!