Understanding Shift Work Sleep disorder(SWSD)

Shift Work Sleep disorder

Working in night shift/ rotational shifts hours is more common than you might think. According to an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine, up to 20% of workers work either night or rotating shifts.

 Although not everyone who works odd hours has the shift work sleep disorder, a lot can be at stake.

Researchers have found that shift workers who are sleep-deprived often get irritable or depressed and their memory and ability to focus can also become impaired. Their relationships and social life can suffer, too.

While many employees aren’t able to change their work hours, there are ways to lessen the effects of SWSD. Read this blog for some quick bytes of info from experts.

What is shift work sleep disorder?

Irregular sleep patterns and nontraditional work schedule can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm, or “biological clock.” It regulates wakefulness and sleepiness at relatively set times throughout the 24-hour day. It disturbs the circadian rhythm and can cause frustrating symptoms when it’s out of the natural process.

The Cleveland Clinic estimates that between 10 to 40 percent of shift workers experience SWSD. Those who have regularly shifting schedules are most likely to be affected. However, not everyone who works a nontraditional shift experiences SWSD. Many people who work these shifts have certain circadian rhythms that supports the cycle, these are the people who are best able to avoid the disorder.

SWSD can cause higher risk of:

  • Ulcers
  • Insulin resistance
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Heart disease
  • Sleepiness
  • Alertness
  • Body temperature
  • Hormone levels
  • Hunger

What are the symptoms of shift work sleep disorder?

People affected with SWSD may experience many of the following symptoms:

  • excessive sleepiness, both on and off the job
  • difficulty  in concentrating the task at hand
  • lack of energy
  • insomnia that prevents you from getting adequate sleep
  • sleep that feels incomplete or not refreshing
  • depression or moodiness
  • trouble with relationships

Lifestyle changes that can help treat SWSD

There are many lifestyle changes you can make which may help relieve some of your sleep disorder symptoms:

  • Try to keep a regular sleep schedule irrespective of whether you are working or not.
  • If possible, talk to your boss about taking a gap of 48 hours off after a series of shifts.
  • Wear sunglasses when leaving work to minimize sun exposure. Doing so can help prevent the “daytime” clock from activating.
  • Take naps when possible.
  • Limit caffeine intake four hours before bedtime.
  • Maintain a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Use heavy shades for sleeping to create a dark environment.
  • Ask family and other live-in companions to reduce surrounding noise
  • Avoid a long commute if you can. It can cut into your sleeping hours and cause further drowsiness.
  • Take over-the-counter medication after consulting a doctor.
  • Purchase a lightbox for light therapy to expose your eyes to extremely bright but safe light before work.
  • To improve sleep quality as much as possible, try to block out disruptions. Try not to look at your phone or bright screens for an hour before bed. Use white noise machines, calming music, or earplugs to drown out the background noise of the day.

Sleep is an important activity that keeps you healthy. It’s never good to sacrifice sleep for the sake of work and make the body suffer the consequences. However, proper management can help you regulate the sleep patterns and overall quality of life.

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