Shift Work Sleep Disorder – What It Is and What to Do?

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jun 13, 2021 1:34:00 PM

Shift Work Sleeping Disorder - Anchroage Sleep Center

What is Shift Work

Someone who is a shift worker doesn't work the traditional 9a-5p, Monday through Friday. This means either working non-typical hours, working rotation work (changing shifts), or working many days on followed by many days off. Especially in Alaska, summer time means a large number of seasonal shift work jobs.

Shift workers include:

  • Pilots
  • Construction workers
  • Police workers
  • Doctors and nurses
  • Firefighters
  • Taxi/Lyft/Uber drivers
  • Customer service
  • Retail

Shift work can be beneficial for several reasons. You will likely get paid better for otherwise similar jobs. You may get the ability to have stretches of time with no work, shift workers are also at a variety of disadvantages when it comes to long term health and sleep outcomes.

What is Shift Work Sleeping Disorder?

Shift work sleeping disorder (SWD) is a circadian rhythm disorder that results directly from shift work. Not everyone who works odd/long hours develops SWD, but you are certainly much more at risk for developing it if you work shift work.

Some symptoms of SWS mainly include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Circadian rhythm disorders
  • Reduced performance in all areas of life
  • Lower life expectancy
  • Chronic irritability and depression
  • Health problems (discussed in next section)

Sleep and Health Risks of Shift Work

Effects of sleep deprivation

Shift workers are at increased risk for a variety of chronic illnesses, such as [National Sleep Foundation]:

  • Heart disease
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Ulcers
  • Metabolic syndrome

There are also psychological concerns with shift work, such as:

  • Low morale from impacted social life
  • Risk of depressive mood syndromes

Shift workers are also more prone to developing sleeping disorders, such as circadian rhythm disorders and insomnia.

On a related note, there are safety concerns for shift work as well. Driving home after a 24-hour shift, tired and fatigued, poses similar safety concerns as if you were driving drunk. Sleep deprivation from shift work also impacts decision making, reaction times, and so on.

How to Improve Sleep as a Shift Worker

Improving sleep as a shift worker is difficult. Some tips to get better sleep as a shift worker are:

  • Try not to work a number of night shifts in a row
  • Avoid frequently rotating shifts
  • Try to avoid long commutes
  • Ensure that you have an excellent, sleep conducive bedroom, such as blackout curtains, ear plugs, etc.
  • Try and get consistent exercise on non-shift days
  • Set a bedtime that you adhere too religiously – try to keep same bedtime even on non-work days
  • Avoid oversleeping on non-work days
  • Take short naps throughout shift-work
  • Avoid excessive screen use before bed, especially on work days at it will delay sleep
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed, as they can delay sleep
  • Invest in a comfortable bed, sheets, and pillow
  • Setting a bedtime routine

Having a sleep schedule is one of your surest ways to get consistent sleep (at least, as much as possible) on work and non-work days. Good sleep schedules habits may replace sleep medicine supplementation in some cases, and helps prevent you from the nasty cycle of low sleep on work days followed by sleep binging on off-days. Sleep deprivation from shift work is insidious:

Sleep deprivation is often followed by binge sleeping, which feels good but tends to perpetuate the sleep deprivation cycle.

If you are a shift worker in Alaska and are concerned you have SWD, please consult with one of our sleep specialists for a sleep evaluation.

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Topics: Shift work

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