Irregular Sleep-Wake Syndrome



What is irregular sleep-wake syndrome?

Irregular sleep-wake syndrome is sleeping without any real schedule. Irregular sleep-wake syndrome is one of several circadian rhythm disorders. People with these disorders have sleep times that seem to be out of alignment. Their sleep patterns do not follow the “normal” sleep times at night. The sleep of patients with irregular sleep-wake syndrome is so disorganized that there is no clear sleep or wake pattern.

People with irregular sleep-wake syndrome may sleep off and on in a series of naps over a 24-hour period. The sleep pattern is broken up into pieces. This is similar to infants who may sleep for a few hours and then be awake for a few hours. If you add up all of the sleep times, the total sleep time may be normal for that age.

During the day, it may seem like they are sleepy because they nap so much. During the night, it may seem like they have insomnia because they are awake for long periods of time during the night. Their sleep is broken up into pieces all day and all night. There is not one main sleep time that occurs at any time of day.

How common is irregular sleep-wake syndrome?

Irregular sleep-wake syndrome is a rare condition. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of irregular sleep-wake syndrome?

The common symptoms of irregular sleep-wake syndrome are:

  • Sleeping or napping more than usual during the day
  • Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep at night
  • Waking up often during the night

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Sleeping and waking at irregular times and sleeping for short periods are not medical emergencies. It’s normal to occasionally have difficulty sleeping. However, you may want to see a doctor if you’re exhibiting signs of irregular sleep-wake syndrome on a regular basis and haven’t yet been diagnosed with the disorder. This is especially important if you can’t think of any factors that could be accounting for the disturbance.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes irregular sleep-wake syndrome?

The root cause of irregular sleep-wake syndrome is a near absence of the circadian rhythm responsible for regulating periods of wakefulness and rest.

It appears that if you don’t have a daily routine or set schedule, you’re at an increased risk of developing irregular sleep-wake syndrome. The prevalence of irregular sleep-wake syndrome increases with age. However, age itself isn’t a risk factor. Age-related increases in medical, neurological, and psychiatric disorders contribute to the development of this condition.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for irregular sleep-wake syndrome?

There are many risk factors for irregular sleep-wake syndrome, such as:

  • Irregular work shifts (switching between day shifts and overnight shifts)
  • Frequent travel among different time zones

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is irregular sleep-wake syndrome diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about recent sleeping habits. They will also ask about ongoing issues with insomnia or excessive sleepiness during the day.

Your doctor may use a sleep diary and an actigraph to help diagnose irregular sleep-wake syndrome. A sleep diary involves keeping a record of how long and when you slept over a set period. An actigraph is a device that resembles a watch. It tracks your sleep-wake patterns.

These tools will likely be used to track your sleep for at least seven days. A physician will look for a minimum of three cycles of sleeping and waking within a period of 24 hours to make a diagnosis.

How is irregular sleep-wake syndrome treated?

Treatment for irregular sleep-wake rhythm is aimed at trying to increase stimulation to reset the sleep clock in the brain. The goal is to have one long sleep time at night and one long awake time during the day.

Light treatment is one way to help a weakened body clock. Other scheduled behaviors can also help.

Education and behavioral counseling can be helpful. Following the rules of good sleep hygiene is an important way to keep one main sleep time. Melatonin may also be used in children and teens but should not be used in older people with dementia.

A doctor may monitor your progress by having you complete a sleep diary during treatment. As research studies continue, more information will become available about the causes and other future treatments of this uncommon sleep disorder.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage irregular sleep-wake syndrome?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with irregular sleep-wake syndrome:

  • Controlling your exposure to light: You should be exposed to bright light and blue light during the day. The period of exposure should also be increased. Limit your exposure to blue light from TV and computer screens at night.
  • Melatonin supplementation
  • Adding more structure to your day: This could include scheduling social interaction, exercise, and other activities.
  • Making your sleep environment as inviting and comfortable as possible
  • Minimizing the amount of noise in your sleep environment

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: February 19, 2019 | Last Modified: February 19, 2019

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