Your Questions and Answers about Shift Work Sleep Disorder
Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. workforce perform shift work. Shift work refers to work performed outside the traditional 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. work schedules, and includes those who work early mornings, late nights, and those with rotating schedules.
Shift work is an unavoidable necessity for companies that require 24 hours of service. Examples of shift workers include health care workers, law enforcement officers, convenient store employees, restaurant staff, flight attendants and many more.
Most of these shift workers experience disrupted sleep patterns such as excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and insomnia. Sleeping difficulties in relation to working irregular schedules can make workers suffer from shift worker sleep disorder. Here are some of the frequently asked questions about shift-work sleep disorder.
What exactly is shift workers sleep disorder?
Shift-work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a form of circadian rhythm sleep disorder that is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and insomnia. The circadian rhythm refers to the endogenous, built-in body clock that regulates the times of wakefulness and sleepiness.
The circadian rhythm for most people revolves around natural daylight and darkness periods. This makes them more awake and alert during the day, and more tired and asleep at night.
For people who work outside the normal 9 to 5 work schedules, irregular sleep patterns can disrupt their circadian rhythms and result in a wide range of mental and physiological problems.
What are signs and symptoms of shift worker disorder?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, excessive sleepiness and difficulty sleeping are the chief complaints for people with shift sleep disorder or any other form circadian rhythm disorder. Other common symptoms include:
• Difficulties with personal relationships
• Depressed mood or irritability
• Headaches and lack of energy
• Difficulties concentrating and being alert
These symptoms may vary from patient to patient. However, if a shift worker experiences any of these symptoms, they should talk to a doctor.
What are some health risks associated with shift-work sleep disorders?
Short-Term Health Effects
For those whose schedules rotate or those starting working nights, the initial disruptions of their circadian rhythm can result in health issues such as:
• Gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, nausea and upset stomach
• Increased risks of vehicle and on-the-job accidents
• General feelings of ill health
• Decreased quality of life
Long Term Health Effects
• Increased risks of cardiovascular diseases
• Fertility problems and menstrual irregularities
• Higher chances of getting colds or flu
• Mood disorders and severe gastrointestinal problems
Most of these health issues occur when the body’s ability to secrete melatonin reduces. Melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for controlling the circadian rhythms and waking and sleeping cycles. It also helps to boost the immune system and prevent health problems. Some of the health problems can also be due to lack of exercise by shift workers and poor dietary choices.
How is shift work disorder diagnosed?
To diagnose shift work sleep disorder, the doctor will use a sleep journal and sleep studies to determine if the sleep problems are caused by shift work. They will also ask questions to gather information about the work hours, sleep times, and feelings after waking up. The doctor will ask questions to determine whether the patients falls asleep or feels tired while at work.
What are some treatment options for shift worker disorder?
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