Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Circadian Rhythm Disorders What Are Circadian Rhythm Disorders?

A woman lying awake in bed

Circadian rhythm disorders, also known as sleep-wake cycle disorders, are problems that occur when your body’s internal clock, which tells you when it’s time to sleep or wake, is out of sync with your environment.

Your internal clock, called a circadian clock, cycles about every 24 hours. These repeating 24-hour cycles are called the circadian rhythm. 

Your body tries to align your sleep-wake cycle to cues from the environment, such as when it gets light or dark outside, when you eat, and when you are physically active. When your sleep-wake cycle is out of sync with your environment, you may have difficulty sleeping, and the quality of your sleep may be poor. Disruptions of your sleep-wake cycle that interfere with daily activities may mean that you have a circadian rhythm disorder.

Disruptions in your sleep patterns can be temporary and caused by your sleep habits, job, or travel. Or a circadian rhythm disorder can be long-term and caused by aging, your genes, or a medical condition. You may have symptoms such as extreme daytime sleepiness, decreased alertness, and problems with memory and decision-making.

To diagnose a circadian rhythm disorder, your doctor may ask about your sleep habits and may suggest a sleep study and some other diagnostic tests. Your treatment plan will depend on the type and cause of your circadian rhythm disorder.

You can take steps to prevent circadian rhythm disorders by making healthy lifestyle changes to improve your sleep habits. If left untreated, circadian rhythm disorders may increase the risk of certain health problems or lead to workplace and road accidents. 

Sleep brochure cover image

This brochure describes the differences between the types of sleep needed to feel awake and to be healthy and offers tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

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