“Delayed sleep phase syndrome”: how about neurodiversity?!
This morning and afternoon were pretty rough. I woke up coughing from allergies several hours early, and felt groggy and hungover until I got back down for a nap.
While I was up in front of the keyboard, though, somebody on Twitter linked to an interesting piece: Earlier Bedtimes May Help Protect Adolescents Against Depression And Suicidal Thoughts.
Especially since sleep-related stuff was much on my mind already, seeing that prompted me to look further into what I’ve been experiencing.
Some years back, I had read something about being a confirmed night owl having been turned into a sleep disorder, and figured I probably had it. Yep, it does sound that way. They’re calling it Delayed sleep phase syndrome.
People with DSPS do not adjust to a new schedule easily, if at all…
Or, as Wikipedia puts it: “Attempting to force oneself through 9 – 5 life with DSPS has been compared to constantly living with 6 hours of jet lag.”…
When normal chronotypes shift their schedules, all the body’s rhythms catch up and are synchronized to each other within a few days. In DSPS, the dissynchrony may continue as long as the shifted, “unnatural” schedule lasts, even for years or decades, leading to physical and psychological disorders.
It’s clear that people with DSPS who (try to) work days, have much the same set of problems that many shift workers have, whether these always work nights or are on a rotating schedule. However, shift workers’ problems receive sympathy and understanding while people with DSPS are commonly stereotyped as undisciplined and lazy. Dagan again (PDF, page 7), on adolescents, points out that “[f]requently, the patients’ parents, teachers, doctors, or psychologists believe that the patients’ biological sleep-wake problem and the accompanying dysfunction at school are motivational or psychological in nature, a belief that during the years, the patients tend to adapt themselves. This attitude toward CRSD patients, to which [they have] been subjected since early childhood or adolescence, adds psychological distress to the practical difficulties of coping with life.”
Like normal people, we do adjust (entrain) to the earth’s 24-hour rotation, but, without treatment, we don’t “learn” to wake up at a conventional, early time of day.
Reading, I wondered about possible connections between frequently not getting enough sleep and a lot of the “sleep drunkenness” and “brain fog”–not to mention just plain fatigue and increased pain levels from it, which have been wearing me down lately. Not too surprisingly, they are indeed related.
I also can’t help but think of one of my cousins. I was at their house when a smoke alarm did not wake him up in the morning! The sleep thing no doubt had something to do with his dropping out of high school. 😐 That’s the extreme end, but it’s not an unusual thing in my family. Guess our ancestors probably did a lot of night fishing and the like!
The other things I read were much the same as those first couple of articles linked above. The main point I picked up? I’ve been blaming myself again over something I really can’t help, echoing what other people have said out of misunderstanding.
Yes, this is another example of neurodiversity in action. It’s not a matter of “laziness” or Not Trying Hard Enough. Feeling obscurely guilty when I don’t get into bed before 4 a.m. or up before noon does not help, any more than kicking myself over the tics or dyscalculia did. I have even caught myself thinking that I somehow deserved to feel jet lagged, if I am unwilling to put in the “necessary effort” to totally change my sleep pattern. (Yep, tried it most of my life, it didn’t work!)
Not too surprisingly, this self-blame has been harder to kick, especially since not being up to paid work right now has made me far more sensitive to appearing “lazy”–the same thing that helped lead to physically exhausting myself beyond all reason, and aggravating the chronic pain. My blaming has tended to take the specific form of “Nigel will think I’m lazy, and I will disappoint him–surely I could straighten up if I tried”, even knowing rationally that this is unlikely. It is easily recognizable as a direct continuation of the kind of stuff I got to hear when I was younger.
The problem I see with a lot that has been written about this, too? It gets characterized as a “sleep disorder” requiring “treatment” (while writers admit that it’s very hard to “treat”). This is another area in which if your neurological setup does not match the majority’s, in terms of circadian rhythm, there is obviously something wrong with you. It couldn’t possibly be something wrong with expecting everyone to fit into the same rigid schedule.
Nah, that–on top of jet lag–wouldn’t give a person “physical and psychological disorders”. Not at all.
That same problem was what helped push me to look into this further, after reading the Earlier Bedtimes May Help Protect Adolescents Against Depression And Suicidal Thoughts thing. They’re approaching the very real problem of sleep deprivation amongst kids–BTDT–in a very inflexible and authoritarian way. Everyone must be the same, and this must be enforced by parents if they’re not. If they’re still sleep deprived and depressed, there are multiple people to blame for it! (Remember, at least 7% of adolescents fit the criteria for “Delayed sleep phase syndrome”, not to mention all the rest of human variation here!)
This reminds me again of just how glad I am that my parents were not given to micromanagement, but instead took the “if she doesn’t get enough sleep, she’ll soon figure out she needs to” and “if she doesn’t do her homework, she’ll see soon enough that it’s a good idea” approach. That’s pragmatism, rather than authoritarianism, in action. And you’re more likely to find reasonable ways of dealing with difficulties–such as, in this case, working the night shift or finding a way to set your own work hours–if that’s the approach you’re using.
I think it’s been amply demonstrated by now that controlling other people does not produce better results, even when things like circadian rhythms are not involved! As witnessed, on a more individual level, here: The Support of Autonomy and the Control of Behavior (PDF) and We Perform Best When No One Tells Us What To Do.