Most people have never heard of non-24 hour sleep wake syndrome. That is because only an incredibly small number of people actually suffer from this disorder. Non-24 hour sleep wake syndrome is a type of sleep disorder. More specifically, it is a type of circadian rhythm disorder. I have been living with non-24 hour sleep wake syndrome for most of my life and I’m going to explain what it is like.
Every person has an internal clock that tells him or her when to wake up and when to fall asleep. This internal clock is called a circadian rhythm and is sometimes referred to as a “body clock.” In fact, almost all living organisms have a circadian rhythm. The majority of people operate on a 24-hour circadian rhythm. In other words, their bodies want to stay awake for approximately 16 hours and sleep for approximately 8 hours, and this cycle is cued by the rising and setting of the Sun. Even in total darkness, most people will still adhere to a 24-hour sleep cycle.
People with non-24 hour sleep wake syndrome, however, do not follow a 24-hour sleep cycle. Their circadian rhythms are off by comparison, and in most cases are much longer. For example, a person with non-24 hour sleep wake syndrome might be on a 36-hour sleep cycle, or even a 48-hour cycle. In the most extreme cases, a cycle might last up to 72 hours, in which the person stays awake for 48 hours and sleeps for 24. It is also common for people with this disorder to stay up perpetually later each day.
The majority of people who have non-24 hour sleep wake syndrome are blind. They cannot see the sunlight; therefore, they are not dictated by its pattern. Most sighted people with non-24 developed it as a result of a sever head injury that resulted in neurological damage. When I was a young child, I suffered a massive trauma to my head that resulted in a fractured skull and two concussions. Ever since then, my sleeping patterns have been abnormal.
Most of the time, I am out of synch with everyone else. I tend to stay up a little bit later every day, and wake up a little bit later each following day. This quickly becomes problematic and makes it virtually impossible for me to follow a normal schedule. I often have to take sleeping pills or deprive myself of sleep to adapt to normal society.
I’ll give you an example of a typical week for me: Today it is Friday and I woke up at 2:30 PM. Monday I woke up around 10:00 AM, Tuesday I woke up around 4:00 PM, Wednesday I woke up around 5:30 PM, and Thursday I woke up around 3:00 PM even though I didn’t go to bed until sometime around 10:00 AM. I just had to force myself out of bed on Thursday because there were things I needed to get done. That night, at around 1:00 AM, I took a sleeping pill because I needed to fall asleep early to get up at reasonable time today, but I still didn’t fall asleep until almost 7:00 AM.
It’s also common for me to rotate between being nocturnal and diurnal. Some weeks I only wake up at night and fall asleep during the day, and other weeks it’s reversed. If I had it my way, I would stay awake for about 20 hours each day and sleep for about 10 to 12 hours; of course, it’s impossible for me to do this for any extended amount of time and live a normal life.
School was a challenge for me and I was always getting in trouble for sleeping during class. Working a normal 9 to 5 job is pretty much out of the question. Luckily, I able to work from home as a writer, and while I do have to meet deadlines, I won’t get fired for sleeping in. If I was not able to somewhat follow my own schedule, I don’t know how I would manage