Shift-Work and Sleep: Sleep Complications & Treatment

Due to economic conditions, many Americans have been forced into shift work, dealing with an erratic work schedule that can sometimes disrupt normal sleep patterns. This has lead to a rise in the sleep condition known as shift work disorder, which is considered a circadian rhythm sleep disorder, as it throws off people’s sleep patterns from standard hours of sleep. When experiencing shift work disorder, people have a heard time falling asleep when they need to for work and may also experience excessive sleepiness during waking hours. With that in mind, here are some of the symptoms and complications that come with shift work disorder, and what treatment options you can seek.

Symptoms of Shift Work Disorder

Shift work is typically defined as work that occurs outside of the normal working day, and usually occurs around the hours of 7pm to 6am. As a result, these shift work schedules take place during the usual sleep period, or can sometimes rotate on a weekly or even daily basis. This off sleep pattern and perpetual lack of restful sleep can lead to sleep disturbances and impaired cognitive function during waking hours.

These problems can manifest in a number of ways. Namely, you will likely experience excessive sleepiness when you need to be awake and alert, particularly during shift work. You may also experience a form of insomnia, which can either mean you have trouble falling asleep, or wake up before you have slept sufficiently due to an irregular sleep schedule. In some cases, you may also become depressed or feel that you are having difficulty with personal relationships, which all put together can wreak havoc on an otherwise normal life.

Treatment for Shift Work Disorder

Before trying medical option, there are many non medical lifestyle changes you can make to optimize your alertness for shift work. One recommendation is to exposure yourself to bright light prior to or during the night shift period, as this will help your body’s internal clock adjust to being awake. It is also a good idea to avoid light prior to sleep, including on the commute home from shift work, as this will tell your body’s internal clock that you should be awake. It may also be beneficial to schedule a nap at some point during your shift if possible, to make sure you get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and to use stimulants such as caffeine to maintain alertness while awake for shift work.

If you are still having problems adapting to shift work, you may want to seek out a medical professional. He or she will likely recommend sleep aids such as modafinil and armodafinil, These will help your body increase wakefulness when you need to be alert and productive during shift work, and may help to boost your body’s internal clock to reset your sleep schedule.

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