Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome in Children: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Jun, 18 2023

Understanding Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

As a parent, it can be challenging to understand why your child might be struggling with sleep. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) is a sleep disorder that affects many children and can cause significant disruptions to their daily lives. In this article, we'll take a closer look at what DSPS is, its signs, symptoms, and treatment options available to help your child get a good night's sleep.

What is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome?

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, also known as Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder, is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder characterized by a significant delay in the timing of sleep, leading to difficulties falling asleep and waking up at the desired time. This sleep disorder can result in persistent sleep deprivation, affecting the child's mood, academic performance, and overall quality of life.

Signs Your Child May Have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

It's essential to recognize the signs of DSPS in your child, so you can take the necessary steps to help them. Some common signs your child may be struggling with this sleep disorder include:

  1. Difficulty falling asleep at a standard bedtime
  2. Frequent nighttime awakenings
  3. Difficulty waking up in the morning, even after a full night's sleep
  4. Excessive daytime sleepiness
  5. Behavioral problems and mood disturbances
  6. Poor academic performance
  7. Dependence on sleep aids, such as melatonin or over-the-counter medications
  8. Increased irritability and frustration
  9. Depression and/or anxiety

Causes of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome in Children

There is no single cause for DSPS in children. However, several factors may contribute to the development of this sleep disorder, including:

  • Genetics: Research suggests that there may be a genetic component to DSPS, as it often runs in families.
  • Hormonal changes: The onset of puberty can cause changes in the body's internal clock, leading to a shift in sleep patterns.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to artificial light, especially from electronic devices, can interfere with the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep.
  • Behavioral factors: Inconsistent sleep schedules, excessive caffeine consumption, and lack of exposure to natural light during the day can contribute to the development of DSPS.

Diagnosing Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome in Children

If you suspect your child may have DSPS, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis. The diagnostic process typically involves the following steps:

  1. A detailed medical history, including information about your child's sleep patterns and any other sleep disorders or medical conditions
  2. A physical examination to rule out any underlying health problems that could be contributing to the sleep issues
  3. A sleep diary, where your child records their sleep and wake times over a two-week period to help identify patterns
  4. Sleep studies, such as a polysomnogram or actigraphy, may be conducted to further analyze your child's sleep patterns.

Treatment Options for Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Once your child has been diagnosed with DSPS, there are several treatment options available to help them achieve a more regular sleep schedule. These may include:

  1. Chronotherapy: This involves gradually shifting your child's bedtime and wake time to establish a more appropriate sleep schedule.
  2. Light therapy: Exposure to bright light in the morning can help reset the body's internal clock, making it easier for your child to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.
  3. Melatonin supplements: Melatonin can help regulate sleep patterns and may be prescribed by your child's healthcare professional to help with DSPS.
  4. Behavioral therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help your child develop healthy sleep habits and manage any stress or anxiety related to their sleep disorder.
  5. Medication: In some cases, prescription medications may be recommended to help your child fall asleep more easily and maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Creating a Sleep-Friendly Environment for Your Child

In addition to the treatment options listed above, creating a sleep-friendly environment for your child can be helpful in managing DSPS. This may include:

  • Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, with a set bedtime and wake time
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques
  • Ensuring the bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable
  • Limiting exposure to electronics and artificial light in the evening
  • Promoting exposure to natural light during the day
  • Encouraging regular physical activity, which can help improve sleep quality

Supporting Your Child Through the Treatment Process

As a parent, it's crucial to be supportive and understanding of your child's struggle with DSPS. This may involve:

  • Communicating openly with your child about their sleep disorder and discussing any concerns or frustrations they may have
  • Working closely with your child's healthcare team to develop and implement an effective treatment plan
  • Being patient and understanding that it may take time for your child to adjust to a new sleep schedule
  • Encouraging your child to participate in activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction, such as yoga or meditation
  • Advocating for any necessary accommodations at school, such as a later start time or extra support for academic challenges related to sleep deprivation


Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome can have a significant impact on your child's overall well-being, making it essential to recognize the signs and seek appropriate treatment. By working closely with your child's healthcare team and providing a supportive, understanding environment, you can help your child successfully manage their sleep disorder and improve their quality of life.