Just ask George Dawes Green, best-selling author of The Juror. USA Today describes how he sleeps around the clock because of this rare sleep disorder.
It is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder that is known by many names. It is called “free-running type” or “nonentrained type.” Sometimes it is called “non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome” or “hypernychthemeral syndrome.”
The disorder is closely related to light and darkness.
Normally people have a circadian rhythm that is longer than 24 hours. But during the day and at night regular timing cues reset the body clock to a 24-hour schedule.
One of these timing cues is light. The light-dark cycle has the strongest influence on the timing of the brain’s clock. Without light, it is likely that your sleep time would drift later and later each day.
This is why people who are totally blind are most likely to have free-running type. It is rare for the disorder to occur in a person like Green who has normal eyesight.
Green told USA Today that he gets eight hours of sleep per day. But his sleep-wake schedule drifts about 20 minutes later each day.
People with this disorder often become isolated. Their varying sleep schedules can make it hard to maintain relationships.
It also can be difficult to succeed in school and keep a job. Green dropped out of school because he couldn’t stay awake in class.
As an adult he tried shift work, getting a job as a night guard. Then he started his own business.
Bright light therapy and melatonin can help treat free-running type. But Green chose instead to live with the disorder and follow his own sleep schedule.
He credits this decision with helping to unleash his creativity. His new novel Ravens is out today.
Image by Russ Morris