Your sleep problem may not be insomnia....
(see also the Definitions page)
For as long as he can remember, John has had trouble falling asleep before 4am, or getting up before noon. He has tried to go to bed earlier, only to find himself lying awake until the early morning, when he can finally sleep. On days when John can stay in bed until noon, he feels ok, though perhaps a bit groggy at first. But if he tries to work a 9-5 job, he has an awful time. He still can't fall asleep until 4am, which means he only gets four hours of sleep. He feels very tired and sleepy during the day, but no matter how tired he is, he can't fall asleep until 4am. Some of John's friends say he sleeps in because he's lazy, but he's really not. He works very hard and, when he can get 8 hours of sleep he has enough energy. Other people say he can't sleep because he's worried, but John knows that's not the case. If it's the right time of night for him to sleep, John sleeps well enough. But he's frustrated at the difficulties in his work and personal life caused by his late night sleep pattern. John has DELAYED SLEEP PHASE DISORDER.
Sally has a different problem. Some nights Sally seems to sleep normally. She'll go to bed around 11 and get up at 7. But it never stays that way. Her bedtime keeps shifting by an hour each day. If she falls asleep at 11 on Monday, she won't fall asleep until midnight on Tuesday. And it will keep on changing — 1am, 2am, 3am. Unlike John, who always falls asleep by 4, Sally's sleep time continues to delay until 5am, 6am and so on. Every couple of weeks Sally finds that her sleep has delayed so much that she is sleeping all day and is awake all night. A few more weeks go by and her sleep time rotates around again until, for a little while, she's sleeping at a normal time. Sally has never heard of anyone else with such an odd sleeping pattern. She tried explaining it to her doctor, but he didn't seem to understand and just thought she had insomnia. It's not that she can't sleep, she just sleeps at these strange times. She's worried about how she is going to find work or keep a social life with such an odd schedule. Sally has NON-24 HOUR SLEEP-WAKE DISORDER.
John and Sally have CIRCADIAN RHYTHM SLEEP DISORDERS. There are other types as well. Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders (CRSDs) are disorders of the timing of sleep. People with CRSDs may have good quality sleep or poor quality sleep. They may sleep long hours or short. They may be energetic or tired. But what they have in common is a problem with the timing of their sleep. When society wants them to be awake, they are often asleep, and they are often awake when the rest of the world is asleep. Scientists have found some clues to why this is so. Every human being has a biological clock which tells the body what time of day it is. In the morning the clock tells the body to wake and start to prepare for the day. At night it winds down and encourages most people to sleep. But for sufferers of CRSDs, the body clock is broken or out of alignment. It tells us we should be awake and asleep at the wrong times — or at least times that are incompatible with most people's lives. A broken body clock can also cause tiredness and grogginess at times, problems with hormone regulation, and other long-term effects on health. But the thing that usually stands out and distinguishes CRSDs from other disorders is the timing of sleep. You can learn more about the body clock here, and about the biology of circadian rhythm sleep disorders here.
The Circadian Sleep Disorders Network (CSD-N) is an organization of people who have CRSDs. We have come together to find ways we can help spread awareness of CRSDs, so that people will understand that these are real disorders; to encourage society to make accommodations so that people with CRSDs can more easily work or attend school; and to encourage more research into causes and treatments for CSDs.
(The stories above are fictional and are for illustrative purposes only. The photos are of models who do not necessarily have the conditions described.)