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What can I do to wake up easier in the mornings?

This question was asked in Logan, North Dakota on 09/13/2012.
I am 24 and since I was a teenager I've had extreme difficulty waking up in the mornings. I've used multiple alarm clocks, but quickly get used to them including my most recent one that requires me to do math problems before I can snooze or turn it off. I go to bed around 10pm every night but cannot fall asleep till 12 most nights sometimes 2am or even 4am. As a child I sleepwalked and as a young adult I talk in my sleep. Fortunately, my father was patient and would pester me every 15 minutes to wake me up in high school, but as an adult it's not so easy. My husband gets very frustrated with me not waking up and I'm sometimes late to work when he has to leave for work before I need to be up. I need help figuring out what to do!

Doctors Answers (2)

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 9/14/2012

It sounds as though you have what we call "Delayed Phase Syndrome" (DPS). This is normal in adolescence. It is a state that which implies that, if allowed, a person will go to sleep late (3-4 AM, for example, and sleep until noon the next day. By contrast, an "Advanced Phase Syndrome" patient would fall asleep at 8-9 PM and arise at 5AM. After teenage years, due to work, family and other social issues our sleep-wake cycles begin to evolve and fit the rest of the world. There are persons who never adjust or change from the DPS and have to find work which fit their best awake hours and have a very understanding spouse who cares for the morning hour duties. There are also those persons who fight the tendency toward DPS and upon retirement revert to their desired sleep pattern. If you truly want to change your sleep wake cycle it will require some (or a lot) of effort on your part. It should be a gradual, not rapid, change. It can be done without sleep medication but using them makes it easier to start the process. In addition, using light therapy is common and helpful. I would start the process by taking an FDA approved sleep aide (most over the counter agents adversely affect sleep architecture and/or stay in the system too long) at 11:30 PM and then have bright light shine in your face at 7:00 AM. Blue spectrum light is best and can be found on the Internet. This light will need to be rigged to come on automatically and will reach your sleep-wake center of the brain even with your eyes closed. Continue with the light every day including weekends. One weekend day of sleeping late can disrupt everything. Do not nap even if sleepy. Continue with the sleep aide as long as necessary but you may soon find that smaller doses or even no medication will be needed once your sleep-wake cycle is established. Taking an FDA approved sleep aide (assuming there are no side effects and that it works) seems less a serious problem than your current sleep issues. As you have a job you don't have the luxury of easing into this change at 30 minute intervals. Good luck.

Richard J. Schumann Jr., MD
Answered on: 9/14/2012

It sound like you are suffering from a hypersomnic sleep disorder or a circadian rhythms sleep disorder where your sleep is disrupted at night and you have excessive sleepiness during the day. It als sound like your whole sleep cycle may be phase delayed. This should be addressed by a sleep specialist to see if diagnostic testing or light therapy need to be employed to help you.