A Comprehensive Guide to Shiftwork Sleep Disorder

A Comprehensive Guide to Shiftwork Sleep Disorder

Shiftwork sleep disorder refers to a circadian rhythm sleeping disorder that is characterised by sleep problems that result from working long hours or irregularly. 

Any work schedule that is not 7 a.m., or 6 p.m., is called "shift work". Although any shift worker can experience symptoms 2 the disorder is most common in employees who work night, early morning or rotating shifts.

Shift work disorder, if left untreated can cause serious health problems. This condition can also affect the worker's professional performance, and increase their risk of making an error or getting into an accident at work. 

It is crucial to identify symptoms of shift work disorder and seek treatment for the patient's safety, health, and well-being.

What is Shiftwork Sleep Disorder?

SWSD, or shift work sleep disorder, is a sleep disorder which affects people who work outside of the 9 a.m.-5 p.m. hours. 

People's circadian rhythms and internal body clocks are affected by shift work. Around 20% of the workforce in the US employed full time are suffering from Shiftwork Sleep Disorder. 


What are the main symptoms of Shift work disorder?

The two main symptoms that are prominent with SSD are:

Insomnia If you are finding it difficult to sleep, it might be an indicator that you are suffering from insomnia. SpeciWorkers who work between 4 and 7 am are more likely to have difficulty falling asleep. 

However, those working the evening shift tend to fall asleep during the night. An average person suffering from shift work disorder loses between one and four hours of sleep each night.

Excessive sleeping

Shiftwork disorder can cause fatigue and decreased alertness when a person works late at night or in the morning. They may feel the need for a nap during their shift. 

These impairments can cause them to lose their ability to perform and pose a safety risk.

When shift workers start working irregular hours, many experience sleep problems

To be eligible for a diagnosis of a shift worker disorder, they must report persistent symptoms for at most three months. 

They also need to have logged at least two weeks of disturbed sleep-wake patterns using actigraphy. 

Additional tests may be performed by doctors to confirm that the symptoms are not caused by an underlying condition or illness.

What are the consequences of Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD)?

Here are some consequences of Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD):

  • Alcohol and Drug dependency
  • Mood and irritability problems
  • Impaired Social functioning
  • Health issues such as cardiovascular, gastronomical and metabolic problems
  • Word-related errors
  • Accidents

Shift Work Disorder vs. Insomnia

Insomnia refers to a sleep disorder that causes persistent difficulty with sleep quality, duration, consolidation or onset. 

People suffering from insomnia have trouble sleeping, even though they sleep in a comfortable area and spend enough time at night. 

These people experience excessive daytime sleepiness, as well as other impairments when they're awake. These impairments could include:

  • Fatigue or malaise
  • Difficulty paying attention and concentrating
  • Memory impairment
  • Irritation or mood disturbance
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Hyperactivity, impulsivity and aggression are all signs of behavioural problems.
  • Low motivation, energy or initiative
  • Higher risk of mistakes or accidents
  • Feelings of sleep satisfaction

Although insomnia can occur on its own, it is often associated with other conditions, such as mental disorders and sleep disorders. 

Although shift work disorder can be considered a separate condition from insomnia, it is often diagnosed based on symptoms. 

Study results have shown that more people suffering from shift work disorder experience insomnia than those who have only excessive sleepiness at work and no symptoms.

Fatigue or malaise

What can I do to deal with shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)?

Shift workers typically sleep between one and four hours more than non-shift workers. It is vital to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Shift workers should be willing to prioritize sleep. Even though it may be daylight outside, people who work shifts that are not 9 a.m.-5 p.m. must prepare for sleep. These are some ways to do this:

  • To prevent the morning sun from activating your internal "daytime" clock, minimize light exposure on the way back from night shift work.
  • You should follow your bedtime routines and keep a consistent sleep schedule even on weekends or days off work.
  • Ask your family and friends for help in creating a peaceful, dark, and quiet environment at home during sleep.
  • Ask your family to borrow headphones so they can listen to music and watch TV.
  • Encourage your household members to refrain from vacuuming, dishwashing, and other noise-producing activities while you are sleeping.
  • Place a "Do not disturb" sign at the front door to ensure that friends and delivery men don't knock on or ring the bell.

Shift work disorder can cause insomnia by disrupting your circadian rhythm, and natural light and dark cycles. This is the chicken-and-egg relationship. This can cause problems with sleeping, staying asleep, and quality sleep. 

These insomnia symptoms, combined with shift work, can lead to significant sleep loss. This could be a sign that you have a shift work disorder. Persistent insomnia symptoms could also be a sign of a shift work disorder.

Patients may be diagnosed with chronic insomnia if their insomnia symptoms persist more than three times per week and for at most three months. 

This condition is called short-term insomnia until the three-month duration benchmark is met. Some people may experience temporary insomnia symptoms caused by environmental factors. 

To be eligible for a diagnosis, symptoms of shift work disorder must also be reported for at most three months. Many shift workers find that their symptoms improve when they move to a more regular work schedule.

How do Shift Work Disorder Symptoms Affect Everyday Life?

A shift work disorder can cause long-term serious complications. This includes:

  • Shift work disorder: This can increase the risk of developing various diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Drug dependency and alcoholism: Many people with shiftwork disorder use drugs or alcohol to help them sleep.
  • Poor diet: Studies have shown that shift work disorder is associated with poor eating habits.
  • The safety of workers is another concern: Shift work disorder sufferers are more likely to be involved in accidents at work or while driving between work and home. Many prominent disasters are believed to have been caused by work-related fatigue. 

What can I do to reduce the impact of SWSD?

  • To help you identify and track the progress of your problem, keep a log of your sleep.
  • Reduce the number of night shifts that are worked consecutively. Night shift workers should work five nights a week, with days off. Workers who work 12-hour shifts should limit their work to four shifts.
  • If you can, take at least 48 hours off after a series of night shifts.
  • Avoid working long hours. Avoid long shifts and excessive overtime. You should make sure you have enough sleep and time to participate in your family's and friends' activities.
  • Avoid long commutes that can disrupt your sleep.
  • Avoid rotating shifts too often. Rotating shifts can be more challenging than working the same shift for a longer time.
  • Sleep enough on the days you are off. Good sleep hygiene includes planning and organizing a sleep schedule, and avoiding nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. Don't start your night shift if you are suffering from sleep deprivation.
  • Take a break before or during your night shift. Night shift workers can benefit from a nap to improve their alertness.
  • Avoid driving while you are sleepy. You can take a power nap if you are too tired to drive home after your shift or hire a ride home.
  • Prescription drugs like modafinil(r), armodafinil(r), and Provigil(r), which promote wakefulness during work hours, may play a role. The best strategy is to get enough sleep.
  • If you have trouble sleeping, it is possible to prescribe sleep aids.
  • A good light exposure in the first part of the shift can increase alertness.
reduce the impact of SWSD

    Lifestyle changes to manage Work Sleep Disorder

    You can make lifestyle changes that may alleviate some of the symptoms of your sleep disorder.

    • You should try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule even on the days you are not there.
    • After completing a series of shifts, allow 48 hours for vacation.
    • To reduce sun exposure, wear sunglasses when you leave work. This can prevent the "daytime clock" from activating.
    • Sleep whenever you can.
    • Avoid caffeine consumption for four hours before bedtime
    • Keep a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and other nutrients.
    • To create a dark atmosphere, use heavy shades when you sleep to make it darker.
    • Ask your family members and live-in companions for help to reduce the noise level by using headphones to listen to music or watch TV. Ask them to stop doing household chores while you are awake.
    • If possible, avoid a long commute. You may experience sleep disruption and drowsiness.
    • Even during the day, keep your nightly rituals going before you go to bed.
    • Use white noise or earplugs to drown out any sound you hear while you sleep.
    • Use over-the-counter Melatonin.
    • To lighten your eyes with a safe, bright light before you go to work, purchase a lightbox for light therapy.
    • Before you start your shift, take a 30- to 60-minute nap.

    Your employer might want to provide safety measures for non-traditional shift workers, such as police officers, 24-hour factories, hospitals, and other departments. 

    To increase alertness, it may be necessary to keep the workplace bright and cool.

    How to diagnose shift work disorder?

    Diagnostic self-test

    You may be suffering from a shift disorder Ask yourself these questions:

    • Are you on a schedule that calls for you to work at night?
    • Are you having trouble sleeping?
    • Are you experiencing a sleep problem at work for at least one month now?
    • Is this a problem in your personal, family, and professional life?

    You might have shiftwork disorder if you answered yes to all of these questions. An accredited sleep centre's sleep team can help you adjust to your work schedule, and improve your sleep.

    The doctor may ask that you keep a two-week sleep diary. Keep track of when you fall asleep and wake up. This will allow your doctor to see how you sleep and help her decide what treatment she should take. 

    Your complete medical history will be required by your doctor. Your doctor will need to know your complete medical history.

    A record of your sleep patterns, symptoms and work schedule will usually suffice to diagnose and plan treatment. 

    If the doctor suspects another sleep disorder such as sleep apnea is causing your symptoms, a sleep study might be necessary (jet lag).

    How to diagnose shift work disorder

    How can you treat shift work disorder?

    Bright light therapy

    Bright light therapy is the use of a specific light source to assist your body in adjusting to your new schedule. This light is applied at a particular time, typically at the beginning of your shift. 

    You can ask your sleep doctor to help you decide when and how long you should use this light therapy.

    You can use the lightbox as a desk lamp, lightbox, light goggles or visor. These lights are very similar to those used to treat the seasonal affective disorder. This is particularly useful for night workers.

    Sleep medication

    A sleeping pill can be prescribed by your doctor to help you fall asleep at the right time. In the short-term, sleeping pills can help you fall asleep faster. You may become dependent or tolerable over time. 

    Side effects can occur when taking sleep medication. Before you start taking any over-the-counter sleeping aid, consult your doctor.


    Supplements of melatonin may be able to help you adjust better to shift work. The brain's pineal gland produces melatonin, a natural hormone that signals when your body should go to sleep. 

    Research shows that small amounts of melatonin are just as effective as larger doses. You should take melatonin at least four hours before you go to bed. Before you take any over-the-counter sleeping aid, consult your doctor.

    For a clinical evaluation and treatment, a doctor or board-certified sleep physician should be consulted if you have insomnia symptoms.

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