Always the First to Leave the Party? You Might Be an “Extreme Early Riser”
Picture this: it’s 7 PM. You’re at a friend’s birthday dinner.
Everyone else is laughing, chatting, and having a great time… and you’re stifling a yawn. The party isn’t boring, yet you find yourself fighting sleep.
Before long, you’re glancing around the room, looking for a quiet chair so you can sit back and close your eyes — just for a minute. In the end, you make your excuses and head out early to go to bed because, knowing you, you’ll be wide awake at 4 AM anyway.
If this describes your standard party experience, you’re probably what’s called an “extreme early riser.” And it’s not just a preference for early mornings — it’s a medical condition, officially titled “Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder” or “ASPD.”
For most people, energy dips between the hours of 10 PM to 7 AM — so that’s when they sleep. But if you have ASPD, you have an abnormality in your circadian rhythm (the internal “clock” that regulates your alertness levels) that makes you begin to feel sleepy as early as 7 or 8 PM and start feeling alert as early as 4 AM.
The question is: why?
What Causes ASPD?
According to a 2001 study by Northwestern University, genetics plays a significant role in whether or not ASPD develops. 40%-50% of people who have ASPD are related to someone who also has the syndrome. It isn’t clear yet which specific genes relate to ASPD or whether it’s a dominant or recessive trait.
Some people may also develop ASPD as they get older. That’s because aging affects the circadian rhythm and can cause shifts to earlier wake times (and, consequently, earlier sleep times).
Is ASPD Harmful?
Not necessarily. Most people with ASPD report that once they go to bed (even if it’s much earlier than the social norm), they fall asleep quickly and stay asleep for the duration of the night. ASPD doesn’t seem to be associated with sleep apnea or other common sleep problems.
For people with ASPD, the biggest downsides/risk factors are:
Impact on social life: Since most people with ASPD go to bed much earlier than normal, they may miss out on fun social gatherings or family time. This can leave them feeling isolated and can be a strain on relationships.
Impact on work-life: People with ASPD will not perform well in jobs requiring evening work hours or night shifts.
Impact on driving: Since someone with ASPD will begin to feel drowsy much earlier in the day, they should be extremely careful when driving in the late afternoon or evening.
Impact on sleep: Some people with ASPD will choose to sacrifice an earlier bedtime in favor of spending time with friends and family, and thereby not get adequate sleep.
How Is ASPD Treated?
If you have ASPD, we have good news: you might be able to reverse it (if you want to).
The primary treatment for ASPD includes a two-process approach aimed at resetting the circadian rhythm.
Process 1: Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep. The body naturally produces melatonin, but it can also be taken as a supplement.
To gradually shift your circadian rhythm, you will need to remind your body when it needs to be sleepy. Taking a slow-release melatonin capsule before bedtime, or when you wake up super early, will help your body sleep until a more “normal” wake time.
Process 2: Bright Light Visual Stimulation (Bright Light Therapy)
To reset the body’s internal clock, steady stimulation is needed in the evening hours to “remind” the body that it still needs to be awake. This is done with Bright Light Therapy.
In Bright Light Therapy, a specialized lightbox is turned on, or a portable device is put on (similar to eyeglasses) for an hour or two before bed.
You will need to do this every night for a week or longer to get maximum benefits.
To ASPD or Not to ASPD?
If you consistently wake up early, feeling wide awake and ready to go, you may have ASPD.
Though it is a medical condition, ASPD won’t have a direct impact on your health, provided you go to bed early enough to get adequate sleep.
However, if your ASPD is interfering with your social life or relationships, there are some options to help you naturally shift your circadian rhythm back into a more normal time frame.
As always, talk to your doctor with any concerns you have — and whether you decide to keep or reverse your ASPD, we wish you a flawless night’s sleep.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website or provided through our blog, e-mails, or programs is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment that can be provided by your healthcare professionals.