What is sleep work shift disorder?
If you’ve ever worked a night shift, then you’ll most likely identify with what this blog post is going to be talking about.
Unfortunately, some jobs require people to work and sleep at weird hours. But as it turns out, working during the night and attempting to sleep during the day can play havoc with your normal sleeping patterns – and the results aren’t always good.
This practice has even given birth to its very own sleep disorder. Yes, Sleep Work Shift Disorder (SWSD) is a real thing, and it affects more people in more ways than many likely realize.
What is it?
Sleep Work Shift Disorder is basically a sleep disorder brought about by having an irregular sleep/work schedule. Wikipedia actually maintains a very informative article on the subject, and defines the disorder as follows…
“Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder characterized by insomnia and excessive sleepiness affecting people whose work hours overlap with the typical sleep period.”
If you tend to work hours that keep you up or awake after dark, or tend to have to try to sleep when it’s still light outside, then you are probably at a much higher risk for this disorder than people who get to sleep at night and work during the day – because it actually has a lot to do with the body’s 24 hour internal clock, otherwise known as circadian rhythm.
Webmd.com describes it like this…
“When you work at night and sleep during the day, your body’s internal clock needs to reset to let you sleep during the day. Sometimes that’s hard to do.”
This problem is usually worse for people who work all night – but it can also cause trouble for people who work early-morning shifts as well. Shifts that start at 4 a.m., for example, may be problematic because they often have you getting up when your body’s internal clock is telling you that it’s still time to be sleeping, and require you to go to bed much earlier than your body’s natural clock is accustomed to.
Not everyone has a problem getting used to a night schedule, though. In fact, there are some people (typical ‘night owls’) who adapt quite well to working during the night and sleeping during the day. But this is, unfortunately, not true for everyone – and some people really suffer from a lack of sleep when their schedule interferes with their body’s normal 24 hour sleep/work cycle.
What are the symptoms?
People suffering from Sleep Work Shift Disorder will typically suffer from symptoms like excessive sleepiness during hours when they need to be alert and productive, insomnia, sleep that’s unsatisfying or insufficient, an overall lack of energy, poor concentration, depression and/or irritability, and an increasing difficulty in maintaining positive personal relationships.
Sleep Work Shift Disorder can also put you at an increased risk for a number of different health problems. It can lead to more stress, may increase your odds of getting sick, and may increase your chances of getting into a car or workplace-related accident. It can also lead to poor concentration, which can affect your job and possibly your livelihood.
Experts have also found that people who work dedicated shifts often have an increased chance for health problems like the cold or the flu.
What can be done about it?
Some people find that a few simple changes to their routine can help them to adjust to different sleep schedules. Trying to eliminate distractions during dedicated sleeping periods can help a lot, as can keeping your bedroom dark and quiet while you’re supposed to be sleeping. Sometimes, social responsibilities or distractions play a significant role in keeping shift workers from getting a quality rest during daytime hours, so finding a way to prevent such distractions from occurring is incredibly important.
Some shift workers also find that taking naps during work breaks helps them to catch up on sleep they might have missed during the day. Eating a healthier diet and staying away from things like caffeine and alcohol can also help.
A medication for insomnia (sleeping pills) can sometimes help, but you should always consult your doctor before attempting to treat such a problem with pharmaceuticals. In some cases, supplementing your diet with increased melatonin can help to improve your quality of sleep. There are some melatonin supplements available over the counter, and some people find that these work quite well in giving them a ‘boost’ to the quality of their rest.
At the end of the day, however, it’s really just important to remember to take care of yourself. Try to remember that you need regular sleeping hours as well, so make sure to communicate to family members and/or roommates that you’re not to be disturbed when you need to be sleeping, unless an emergency presents itself. If you do have social obligations, try to put them off to a time of the day that fits into your natural schedule better – or practice the art of saying ‘no’ to things that will keep you from getting the kind of rest your body needs.
And of course, if worst comes to the worst, you could always look for a different job with more normal hours – though this, understandably, isn’t always an option.