An estimated 10-40% of shift workers in the US suffer from this dangerous sleep disorder.
One sleep disorder has shown to manifest in a particular portion of the population: shift workers, particularly those who work nights, early mornings, and/or irregular shifts. The condition? Shift work disorder.
Shift work disorder causes sleep issues that stem from irregularities in a person’s circadian rhythm—irregularities that are caused by a person’s work schedule. While it’s often not possible to change the hours a person is required to work, it is possible to regulate shift work disorder itself.
Shift Work Disorder Symptoms
There are two main symptoms of shift work disorder:
- Excessive sleepiness (fatigue, impaired cognitive functioning)
A significant red flag that someone has this disorder is if they are sleeping 3-6 hours a night versus the recommended 7-8 hours. Additionally, over time, a person’s work performance will begin to decline—they may even experience a workplace accident that’s caused by the sleep deprivation they’re experiencing. In fact, shift work disorder is the leading sleep-related cause of car accidents.
Shift work disorder can also manifest as uncharacteristic mood swings, heightened irritability, lack of a desire to socialize, a dependency to drugs and alcohol, and additional associated conditions such as gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and metabolic issues.
Treating Shift Work Disorder
To be diagnosed with shift work disorder, a person must report reoccurring symptoms (from the above list) for at least three months. Additionally, a sleep test can determine if a person is experiencing irregular sleep-wake patterns at night.
Once diagnosed with shift work disorder, the main line of defense will be lifestyle changes that help your body adjust to an irregular work schedule and reduce the impact of shift work disorder-related symptoms:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends.
- Ask roommates and partners to help support your sleep schedule by reducing noise in the home during sleep hours (no guests over; no dishwashing or vacuuming; take phone calls behind a closed door away from the bedroom; keep TV volume low or use headphones).
- Place a “Do Not Disturb” and “No Solicitors” sign on the front door to reduce knocking and doorbell rings.
- Put phone into “Do Not Disturb” mode.
- Expose yourself to light when you initially wake up to promote alertness.
- Limit listening to music and physical activity a few hours prior to bedtime.
- Invest in black-out curtains to keep your sleep environment dark even during the day.
Ready to start your journey to better sleep health and overall wellness? Dr. Dibra here at Sleep Dallas is a board-certified sleep medicine specialist who specializes in treating and managing sleep disorders—including narcolepsy. Schedule your consultation today.