Shift Work Sleep Disorder: If You Work The Overnight Shift, You May Be Affected

Posted on: 11 February 2015

Sleep disorders come in many forms. Typically, insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea are most commonly known. However, if you've begun to work an overnight shift, during hours of which you're accustomed to sleeping, you may experience a different type of sleeping disorder known as shift work sleep disorder, often referred to as SWSD. Symptoms of shift work sleep disorder include fatigue, excessive sleepiness and insomnia.

Forced to Be Nocturnal

Most people are accustomed to sleeping during nighttime hours. Humans are not naturally nocturnal, and when forced to stay awake during "normal" nighttime sleeping hours, the body rhythm may be disrupted. This generally occurs in those who work overnight shifts. When this occurs, a condition known as shift work sleep disorder may develop.

Defining Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Your body's "internal clock" is influenced by what experts refer to as circadian rhythm. This is a natural "body regulator" that determines when you need to sleep and when you should be awake. When you work an overnight shift, your body's circadian rhythm may be thrown into disorder. Shift work sleep disorder is often the result.

Recognizing the Symptoms

If you've recently begun to work an overnight shift, you may have noticed physical changes or a change in mood. This may also occur if you work rotating shifts. It's important to recognize symptoms of shift work sleep disorder so you may find a way to adjust and overcome the effects. Here are the primary signs to look out for:

  • Sleepiness That Occurs During Your Work Shift: You may find yourself dozing off or wanting to sleep during the time you're scheduled to work. If you find yourself constantly fighting to stay awake, you could be experiencing the onset of shift work sleep disorder.

  • Insomnia: Do you find it difficult to sleep during the daytime hours when adhering to a night shift schedule? This is a key symptom of SWSD.

  • Fatigue: Individuals suffering from shift work sleep disorder often feel tired during their waking hours. This lack of energy may develop over a period of time.

  • Depression, Anxiety or "Moodiness"

If you notice any of these symptoms, you might want to see your physician for an evaluation and subsequent treatment. Without taking action, your mental and physical health may suffer.

Long-term Affects of Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Most commonly, those affected by SWSD may notice a decrease in their productivity. This is often due to a lack of concentration, brought on by insomnia or excessive sleepiness.

As a result, inferior work may be produced. Sleep deprivation may cause a worker to become forgetful or negligent on the job. This can also pose a safety risk, especially for workers who operate heavy machinery.

Sleep deprivation associated with this disorder may make a person more susceptible to illness and infection. This may result in a higher incidence of sick leave at work. In addition, some individuals affected by SWSD become depressed, irritable or anxious. This may lead to strife in personal relationships and on the job.

Fighting the Battle: What You Can Do

If you've been diagnosed with shift work sleep disorder, your doctor may recommend keeping a sleep diary or journal. Monitor the effects and document your symptoms. This may enable you to note when the changes occur, so you may find a practical solution.

If possible, ask your supervisor to rotate your work shifts. Working several night shifts in succession may place stress on your body. Alternating between day and night shifts during your work week may help.

On your days off, you should find time for relaxation and favorite hobbies or activities. Exercise may help, too. Additionally, catch up on your sleep. You may find this easier to accomplish by cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, both of which may interfere with sleep.

As a final consideration, avoid the use of sleeping pills unless absolutely necessary, and only when prescribed by your doctor. Some medications can be habit-forming. Misuse of these drugs may cause you more problems in the long run.