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Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder

R Robert Auger, MD, FAASM, FAPA, DABPN
Section Editors
Cathy A Goldstein, MD
Ronald D Chervin, MD, MS
Deputy Editor
April F Eichler, MD, MPH


Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD) is the most commonly encountered circadian rhythm sleep-wake phase disorder in adolescents. Like other circadian rhythm disorders, DSWPD results from failure to synchronize internal circadian rhythms to the environmental light/dark cycle.

Individuals with DSWPD have a pronounced "night owl" circadian preference. Affected individuals habitually go to bed and wake up significantly later than conventional or desired times. Unlike unaffected "night owls," patients with DSWPD cannot conform to a sleep schedule that is compatible with personal, professional, or academic obligations.

This topic reviews the clinical features, diagnosis, and management of DSWPD. Behavioral sleep problems and other sleep disorders in children are reviewed separately. (See "Behavioral sleep problems in children" and "Assessment of sleep disorders in children".)


The prevalence of delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD) is not well established, and estimates range widely. Studies using questionnaires, telephone surveys, or mixed subjective and objective measures have identified DSWPD in 0.1 to 3 percent of the general population [1-4].

Studies consistently show a peak prevalence in adolescence, although point estimates in this age group vary by country of origin [2,4-7]. For example, studies of American and Norwegian adolescents have reported a prevalence as high as 7 to 8 percent [7,8], whereas one study involving Japanese young people estimated a prevalence <1 percent, peaking at 1.7 percent among four-year university students [6]. A systematic study involving over 1000 Western European adolescents, aged 15 to 18 years, reported a similarly low rate of circadian disorders of any type (<1 percent) [9]. Differences in school start times (later in Western Europe compared with many high schools in the United States) may explain some of the regional variability.


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Feb 8, 2016.
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