What is shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)?
SWSD is a sleep disorder that affects people who frequently rotate schedules or work night shifts. These schedules go against the body’s natural circadian rhythm, and individuals have difficulty adjusting to the different sleep and wake schedule. SWSD consists of a constant or recurrent pattern of interrupted sleep.
What are the symptoms of shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)?
The most common symptoms of SWSD are difficulty sleeping and excessive sleepiness. Other symptoms include difficulty concentrating, headaches or lack of energy.
Not every shift worker suffers from SWSD, but if you experience any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor.
What are the consequences of shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)?
Consequences of SWSD include:
- Increased accidents
- Increased work-related errors
- Increased sick leave
- Increased irritability or mood problems
How can I deal with shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)?
Shift workers must make sleep a priority. People who work shifts other than a 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. routine might have to prepare for sleep even in the daylight. Minimize exposure to light on your way home from work to keep morning sunlight from activating your internal clock. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends.
At home, ask everyone to help create a quiet, dark and peaceful setting during your sleep time. Encourage people in the household to avoid vacuuming and dish washing, and wear headphones to listen to music or watch TV. Consider a “Do Not Disturb” sign for the front door to avoid knocks and doorbell sounds.
Some general guidelines for decreasing the effects of shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)?
- Maintain a sleep diary to identify the problem and monitor its progression over time.
- Decrease the number of night shifts worked in a row. Shift workers working the night shift sleep less than day workers and become progressively more sleep-deprived over several days. You are more likely to recover from sleep deprivation if you can limit your number of third shifts to five or less, with days off in between. After a string of night shifts, you should have more than 48 hours off, if possible.
- Avoid extended work hours. Avoid working prolonged shifts and overtime.
- Avoid long commutes, which can take time away from sleeping.
- Avoid frequently rotating shifts. It is more difficult to deal with rotating shifts than it is to work the same shift for a longer period of time.
- Get enough sleep on your days off. Practice good sleep hygiene by planning and arranging a sleep schedule and by avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.
- Sleep aids at times can be prescribed if difficulty sleeping persists despite following the above measures.
- Appropriate light exposure during the early part of the shift can improve alertness during the shift.