Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders: Tests and Diagnosis

What tests are used to diagnose circadian rhythm sleep disorders?

While there is no test to diagnose circadian rhythm sleep disorders or delayed sleep phase disorder, a thorough medical history, physical examination and review of sleep history can point to the diagnosis. Other helpful tools include keeping a sleep log or diary for several weeks that documents bedtime, wakeup time, how long it takes to fall asleep, if you feel rested, etc. These often show that teenagers "sleep in" or try to "catch up" on the weekends when their circadian rhythm does not interfere with school.

Another way to demonstrate a child or teen's natural sleeping pattern is to have him or her wear an actigraphy watch. The device looks like a wristwatch, but records the patient's movement, how much sleep occurs, how long it takes to fall asleep, how much time is spent awake throughout the night and the amount of light in the room. Results of an actigraph study can show a delayed sleep phase disorder and to help guide treatment.

If you are suspicious that your child or teen may have delayed sleep phase disorder, think about how he or she behaves during the day: What times is he most hungry?  When is she most alert?  How often is he late for school? An individual with delayed sleep phase disorder will not have an appetite in the morning but will be hungry at night. An affected teen will be tired in the morning and become more alert during the evening.

How do providers at Children's Hospital Colorado make a diagnosis?

For adolescents who have symptoms of a sleep disorder, a complete sleep evaluation is should be done to detect a possible circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Our providers may use sleep logs or actigraphy to help make the diagnosis.