What Causes Circadian Rhythm Disorders?

Circadian rhythm disorders, also known as circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders, are a category of several different conditions that disrupt the body's internal twenty-four-hour clock called the circadian rhythm. Some of the most common forms of circadian rhythm disorders are shift work disorder, jet lag, advanced sleep phase syndrome, delayed sleep phase syndrome, and non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder. Circadian rhythm disorders can affect anyone of any age. Possible indicators of these disorders include daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty with making decisions and thinking clearly, and low performance at work or school. Patients may feel generally unwell, and some may become depressed or irritable. In an effort to resolve circadian rhythm disorders, some patients may misuse alcohol, sleeping pills, or stimulants. Sleep specialists typically use overnight and daytime sleep studies to diagnose circadian rhythm disorders, and sleep diaries and actigraphy may also aid in reaching a proper diagnosis. Treatment options depend on the patient's specific disorder and may include medication, behavioral therapy, bright light therapy, and chronotherapy.

Some of the more frequent causes of common types of circadian rhythm disorders are outlined below.

Time Zone Changes And Jet Lag


Time zone changes and jet lag can both cause disruptions to an individual's circadian rhythm, and jet lag is a recognized type of circadian rhythm disorder. The time zone changes that occur when a patient travels east result in what is known as an advanced sleep cycle. This type of sleep cycle is set in motion when both waking and sleeping times are made earlier than they are in the patient's home time zone, and it often results in much more severe jet lag than patients who travel west might experience. Experts suggest it may take up to one day of adjustment time for each time zone the patient has crossed. For example, if an individual crosses five time zones, they may need up to five days to fully adjust to the time in the new location. Older people and individuals with chronic medical conditions may need several weeks to adjust to a new time zone.

Keep reading to learn more about what can cause circadian rhythm disorders now.

Emily Fowler