5 Ways to Combat Shift Work Disorder
Sleep is important. It promotes overall health and allows your brain to process your day. Working shifts can interrupt a normal sleep pattern and cause shift work disorder. It’s important to understand the symptoms and effects of shift work disorder to ensure you are getting enough sleep to keep your body healthy. Let’s take a closer look at shift work disorder.
- Excessive sleepiness (meaning you feel as though you are fighting sleep) when you should be awake, alert, and productive
- Insomnia—not being able to sleep when you need to. You could have trouble falling asleep, or waking up before you’ve slept enough
- Non-refreshing or insufficient sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of energy
- Irritability or depression
- Personal relationship difficulties
Treatments for sleep work disorder vary. Your doctor may prescribe some medication to help regulate sleep patterns; for example, prescribing medication that can keep you awake or help you fall asleep. If not, there are many lifestyle choices you can make to help your sleep hygiene
- Darkness. Keep your room as dark as possible using blackout drapes or an eye mask. Sometimes, draping a towel over digital devices such as a clock or a DVD player can help too.
- Sunglasses. Wearing sunglasses on the drive home during daylight hours after working at night can help trigger your body to get ready to sleep.
- Earplugs and white noise. These two can keep distracting noise from around the house or neighborhood to a minimum. Also, ask family members not to wake you up unless it is an emergency.
- Temperature. Avoid sleeping in a bedroom that is too hot or too cold.
- Consistency. Attempt to keep your sleep schedule even on your days off.
There are many effects of shift work disorder. Physically, working night shifts long term has been linked to certain cancers, metabolic problems, heart disease, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, and obesity. Individuals who work night shifts or rotating shifts usually don’t sleep enough; long-term sleep deprivation is known to be bad for one’s health. Shift work also disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms, which is your body’s natural sleep clock. In addition, light exposure at night decreases melatonin production (a hormone that helps you sleep), causing sleep deprivation.
Shift work disorder increases your risk of depression and other mental health concerns. Because of the irregular hours, you may feel out-of-step with family members and other people in your life.
Shift work disorder can also impact your performance and safety at work. Your reaction time and decision making abilities are interfered with due to sleepiness. You are also working against your body’s natural clock, meaning your alertness may dip at night even if you think you are sleeping enough. Your risk of injury is higher as your ability to concentrate lowers.
If you think you might suffer from shift work disorder, please talk to your physician or sleep specialist.