Is Shift Work Sleep Disorder Wrecking Your Health and Your Lifestyle?

Updated on August 26, 2023

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a sleep condition that mainly affects those who work outside the distinctive 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work hour. Most people’s internal body clocks, or circadian rhythms, are disrupted by shift work patterns.

A shift worker might work overnight, early in the morning, or switch shifts. Hospitals, transportation, and healthcare are just a few of the businesses that use shift workers. Shift work can refer to any profession that needs you to work outside of standard business hours, such as 9 a.m.-5 p.m. These disturbances, particularly late-night work, can impact the sleep-wake cycle, commonly known as the circadian rhythm.

The Body’s Reaction to the Night Shift

Shift employment has even been labeled as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to new research, working irregular hours might shorten your life. Nurses who did rotating shifts for at least 5 years of shift work raised the chance of mortality from any cause by 11%.

In comparison to non-shift employees, shift workers have a greater frequency of sleeplessness and mental illnesses. When compared to non-shift employees, shift workers have higher white blood cell counts, impairing immunity. Shift employment can obstruct a person’s daily functioning in addition to generating molecular or hormonal disorders.

Switching from a night to a daily routine on days off or during changes in your work shift is another issue. The effects of this changeover are similar to those of jet lag. The body needs one hour every day to acclimatize to sleep disruptions. That may be impossible for night shift workers.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder Symptoms

People who suffer from shift work sleep disorders may have difficulty falling asleep, leaving them exhausted and weary. Some people have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. According to the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, Nightshift workers get two to four hours less sleep each day than the overall population.

Additional signs and symptoms might include:

  • Fatigue or malaise.
  • Difficulty paying attention or concentrating.
  • Memory impairment.
  • Mood disturbance or irritability.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, and other behavioural problems.
  • Reduced motivation, energy, or initiative.
  • Higher risk of errors or accidents.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder Treatment

Although wakefulness-promoting medications can assist with insomnia or tiredness, it is not a substitute for sleep. Modafinil/Modalert and Armodafinil10, two wakefulness-promoting drugs, have been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat shift work disorders. These medications, if taken one hour before work, may help you stay attentive during your shift. This medication is available OTC; one can also buy Modalert online. It’s vital to remember that wakefulness-promoting drugs may not restore awareness to the degree where driving a car or doing risky tasks at work is safe. Modafinil and armodafinil can also have adverse side effects and can become addictive.

Sleep-promoting medications, such as benzodiazepines, can help shift workers sleep more easily. Take caution while using sleep drugs at the start of your shift since they may increase the risk of accidents if the sleepiness does not wear off promptly. Existing sleep problems, such as sleep apnea, may be exacerbated by sleep medicines, which can also be habit-forming11. It is recommended to speak to your physician about the proper amount and timing of sleep aids for your unique routine.

Although shift work medicine can assist with insomnia or tiredness, it is not a substitute for sleep. Before taking a new drug or altering your dose, always check your doctor.

Managing the Night Shift and Sleep Deprivation

As with any sleep disruption, positive lifestyle modifications can go a long way toward ensuring that you receive the sleep you need when your schedule permits it. If you’re not sure where to start, give them a shot—you might be amazed at how well they work! Shift workers may do a variety of things to ensure that they receive enough decent quality sleep, even while working the night shift:

  • Try to keep a regular sleep routine, including on days off.
  • If possible, take 48 hours off after a series of shifts.
  • Wear sunglasses when leaving work to minimise sun exposure.
  • Take naps when possible.
  • Limit caffeine intake four hours before bedtime.

Tips for staying awake and vigilant during your shift

  • Nap. Take a 30-minute nap before your shift begins and, if possible, try to get in a few 10-20 minute naps throughout the night. 
  • Eat small portions throughout the shift. 
  • Keep moving.
  • Chat with your co-workers.
  • Be careful with your caffeine intake.

If the preceding suggestions don’t work, talk to your doctor about your actions to achieve more sleep of better quality. Consider switching to a day shift instead of a night shift if it’s possible for your health. After switching to a more standard work shift, some persons report fewer symptoms of the illness. However, if insomnia symptoms remain despite altering schedules, a separate diagnosis of persistent insomnia disorder may be required.

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The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.