Shift Work Sleep Disorder: Everything You Need to Know

The ultimate guide to understanding Shift Work Sleep Disorder and what you can do about it

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) is a condition that occurs when a person has problems adjusting to their working hours.

This is often the case for people who work during the night and rotating shifts. Such conditions result in a disruption of the normal sleep-wake cycle.

For example, someone with SWSD may sleep for lesser hours than they should. 

This will disrupt the quality and length of their sleeping hours. This significant sleep loss is often dangerous to the health of such a person. 

This article focuses on the effects of shift work sleep disorder and the measures to take against it. Let’s get right into it!

What is Shift Work Sleep Disorder? 

Shift work disorder is a condition that affects people who work non-traditional hours.

That is, people who work outside the typical “9 to 5” workday. 

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 20% of the workforce in industrialized nations work in rotating or night shifts. 

Such a rotating shift work schedule often goes against several people’s internally wired circadian clock.

This adversely affects the circadian rhythm, and by extension, the sleep-wake cycle. 

The circadian rhythm helps to regulate our sleepiness and wakefulness at different set times.

Once it is thrown off, it can set off some pretty frustrating symptoms.

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Once shift work sleep disorder sets in, a person develops difficulties trying to adjust to a different sleep-wake schedule.

This results in troubles when trying to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleeping whenever they desire. 

It is also characterized by drowsiness and excessive sleepiness. These symptoms can be detrimental to both work hours and leisure time. 

Although people who have regular shifting schedules are most likely affected, other sets of people may also encounter this condition. 

When Does Shift Work Sleep Disorder Occur?

As we already mentioned above, shift work sleep disorder occurs when there is a disruption in the circadian rhythm.

It stems from irregular sleeping hours, probably due to work and other reasons. 

While most shift workers tend to develop symptoms, the disorder usually affects workers in either early morning, night, or rotating shifts.

Of the 40% of the American population, it is estimated that 3/5 of them have experienced shift work sleep disorder. 

What Are the Causes of Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

Generally, you share the risk of having shift work sleep disorder if you work at night. Also, people who rotate shifts have a high risk of having this disorder. 

When you work at night, or you have irregular shifts, there is a high chance that you miss the regular snooze time of the day.

Some of the major causes of shift work sleep disorder may include working:

  • night shifts
  • overnight shifts
  • rotating shifts
  • very early morning shifts

What Are the Effects of Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s International Classification of Sleep Disorders gave two major effects of shift work disorder. These effects are:

Insomnia

Insomnia is the major effect of shift work sleep disorder on people. They have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep.

The specific symptoms experienced by individuals may vary by shift. 

For instance, a worker who works between 4 am and 7 am may have trouble getting sleep.

Those with evening shifts, on the other hand, often complain of waking up during the night. 

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An average person with shift work sleep disorder losses up to four hours of sleep per night. 

Excessive Sleepiness

Another significant effect discussed was fatigue and reduced alertness. While a person works during the night or very early in the morning., they may experience these symptoms. 

These people usually feel the urge for a nap at least once while they are on their shift. Such impairments can further decrease performance capacity. It is a safety risk at some places of work. 

Related: Fall Asleep Naturally: 5 Ways to Get Sleep Without Medications

Some of the other effects or complications of shift work disorder include the following:

Mood Problems

Shift work disorder usually causes the affected people to feel irritable and impatient. These people are usually unable to cope with conflicts and other related problems. 

Many of such people avoid any kind of interaction with their coworkers while they are on duty.

Also, they may feel less inclined to engage on a social level with family and friends when they are off work. They are at a higher risk of depression than many other people. 

Related: 5 Benefits of Sleep That Never Go Out of Fashion

Poor Work Performance

People who have shift work sleep disorder have attention problems.

They struggle to concentrate and remember many things. Such a situation may reduce their performance at work and lower productivity. 

Additional Health Problems

A good sleep is often required for proper restoration of the body. It also helps to maintain a healthy immune system. 

Regular sleep loss can increase the severity of an underlying health problem. It is detrimental to metabolic, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular issues. 

It may also cause low libido and low energy in some people. 

Higher Accident Risks

As mentioned earlier, shift work sleep disorder decreases reaction time and alertness. It often puts affected workers at very high risks of committing errors. 

The likelihood of accidents occurring is also usually very low.

Asides from workplace accidents, such persons, are at higher risk of vehicle accidents while driving. Many people believe that sleepiness was responsible for the Chernobyl disaster.

Substance Abuse

Most people who have sleep problems tend to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This often leads to dependency problems and substance abuse. 

Is Shift Work Sleep Disorder Bad? 

Most shift workers often head home after work for dinner and sometimes movies. While some are closing for the day, others are just getting started with work. 

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Shift work is quintessential to the survival of the economy of a society that is working 24 hours a day. 

The question now is, what is the cost of working outside of the usual 9-5 working time? 

Well, these shift workers are liable to experience a series of health complications. Health effects which are even made complicated by the lack of adequate sleep.

Complications such as cardiovascular disease, sleep disorder, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and even heart diseases.

As a shift worker, schedules and even changes in schedules can cause havoc to the health.  Changing the time you sleep and when you wake up mostly disrupts the workings of the body. 

Sleeping during the day and working at night changes how the body’s hormones work. This is because of the way the body is programmed. 

The body is programmed to work during the day and rest at night. Disrupting the body’s timing affects the body’s insulin, testosterone, and cortisol formation. 

Disturbed sleep increases the risk of obesity. Shortened sleep contributes to the increase in weight gain

Sleep disorder often increases the consumption of food rich in carbs and fat. This is owed to the fact that the body lacks desired energy.

Lack of sleep makes the body feel drained of energy. The body feels rather weak. This leads to a great craving for fatty foods and carbs. 

Shortened sleep often has a negative effect on mood.

Depression sets in as a result of shorter sleep hours. Most shift workers with shorter hours of sleep usually fall victim to clinical depression. 

How You Feel When You Have Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift work sleep disorder is a long-term awful health condition. The signs usually manifest on a daily basis.

There are quite a few symptoms that are likely to be prevalent. Amongst them are :

  • Lack of energy 
  • Unintentional dozing off
  • Excessive desire to sleep or desire to nap (During and after work)
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Irritability 
  • Insomnia that causes lack of adequate sleep
  • Reduced performance at work and other places 
  • Moodiness or depression 
  • Inadequate sleep or sleep that is not enough for the body
  • Troubles with personal relationships
  • Proneness of accidents
  • Headache

Severe sleep deprivation or lack of sleep can be very dangerous. It most likely increases the risk of sleeping behind the wheel or even making mistakes while on a job. 

Sleep disorders or deprivation can result in health complications, including cardiovascular health and more. Likewise, the lack of proper sleep can increase the risk of cancer. 

Most aged workers suffer the most complications in this condition.

Both aged female and male workers have the tendency of suffering from cancer as a result of sleep disorders. 

Feeling sleepy at work can be very dangerous. Sleepiness at work can cause ghastly accidents, which can even claim the lives and properties of many. 

Therefore, when you feel these symptoms, they shouldn’t be taken with less seriousness.

This is because if not properly managed, it gets out of hand.

It is most likely to result in accidents both at work or anywhere. Symptoms of sleepiness should never be taken for granted.

Takeaway

Shift work sleep disorder can be quite disastrous. It can lead to personal health problems and other work-related issues. 

It is important to take the symptoms of this condition very seriously. There are some lifestyle changes for effective management of this condition.

However, you should see your doctor whenever you feel you might be having a shift work sleep disorder.