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How Shift Work Can Lead to Sleeping Disorders?

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more

Working in shifts involves following a schedule that differs from the traditional Monday to Friday, 9-5 workdays. It’s when workdays are divided into shifts covering the entire 24 hours with employees working in the evening, overnight or early morning shifts. All living beings including plants and animals have a natural, internal physiological process called the circadian rhythm that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours.  

Shift schedules, especially in individuals working night shifts or rotational shifts, tend to go against this internal body clock or the Circadian rhythm resulting in what can be termed as the ”Shift Work Disorder Syndrome” which predisposes them to a higher risk of sleep disturbances including trouble in falling asleep, staying asleep and sleeping when desired. Such individuals often become Night owls and get less than 6 hours of sleep on their working days. They are continually sleep deprived and over time turn into insomniacs. They are more likely to be easily awakened by noises and tend to have very light sleep. Not only this, but disruption of the Circadian rhythm can also affect a person’s health, exposing him/her to hormonal imbalances and Metabolic Syndrome disorders like obesity and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.  

The Shift work sleep disorder is a chronic long-term condition that impacts day-to-day life. You may experience the following symptoms:

  • Excessive sleepiness, on and off the job
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Lack of energy and tiredness
  • Insomnia that prevents you from getting the required amount of sleep
  • Sleep that feels incomplete or is not refreshing
  • Depression or moodiness
  • Trouble with relationships

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder that can affect people who work nontraditional hours. It causes issues with falling asleep, staying asleep and sleepiness at unwanted times. It’s treatable with lifestyle changes, light therapy and/or medication.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka, MBBS, MD

Strategies To Manage Shift Work Sleep Disorder –

We know for a fact that shift work causes sleep problems, along with affecting your performance and overall wellbeing. However, there are a few tips you can use to improve your sleep and decrease the negative effects of shift work.

  • Maintaining a regular sleeping schedule: Being consistent with your sleep schedule gives your circadian rhythm the ability to adjust.
  • Get enough sleep: Give yourself enough time to rest and refresh.
  • Be careful with caffeine: Drinking a cup of coffee at the start of your shift is good to improve alertness. However, consuming caffeine later in your shift can interfere with sleeping when you get back home.
  • Avoid working multiple nights in a row: Sleep deprivation will gradually increase over several nights, give yourself time to recover by taking off days in between night shifts.
  • Avoid rotating shifts: When you change Shifts often, your body’s internal clock is unable to adjust to the schedule.
  • Avoid extended work hours: Make time for sleep and other activities outside of work so that you’ll feel refreshed before it’s time to get back to the job.
  • Expose yourself to bright light at the start of your ”day”: Bright light has the same effect as sunlight and will help your brain to recognise it as daytime and make you more alert. Bright lights can help you train your body to recognize the start of your night-time shift as a day.
  • Take measures to stay alert at work: Your workplace should be bright and cool.
  • Take a nap before the night shift: Taking a nap of about 90 minutes before reporting for your night shift helps you to stay alert and awake.
  • Eat well: Try eating three regular meals evenly spaced over the course of the day. Regular meals are important for your body as they serve as cues for the body clock. Avoid eating junk and fast food. Avoid eating the largest meal for the day three hours before bedtime as well as avoid consumption of alcohol. Consume a balanced low-fat meal with plenty of fruits, vegetables and cereals.      
  • Limit disturbances during sleep hours: Educate your family about the body clock and its effect on sleep. Darken your room, turn off your phone, and ask family to limit noise and visitors while you’re sleeping. Make sure to schedule repairs and deliveries outside of your sleep time.

Disclaimer: The above information has been prepared by a qualified medical professional and may not represent the practices followed universally. The suggestions listed in this article constitute relatively common advice given to patients, and since every patient is different, you are advised to consult your physician, if in doubt, before acting upon this information. Lupin Limited has only facilitated the distribution of this information to you in the interest of patient education and welfare.

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