Current labor statistics estimate that more than 15 million Americans have jobs that fall into the shift-work category such as truck and commercial drivers, doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, pilots and customer service representatives. With these individuals what can evolve over time is a disorder known as shift-work syndrome. It is defined as difficulty sleeping due to the fact that you are working during the night. Rest is not easily forthcoming when you should be sleeping during the day, which in turn results in poor concentration and decreased alertness when you work at night.
What Causes Shift-Work Syndrome?
Experts believe that shift-work syndrome is caused by a glitch in a person’s circadian rhythm or internal body clock that operates 24/7. For most, light and the sun trigger our brain to know it is time to be awake, and darkness and the night cue us for bedtime and rest. Hence, when a shift worker is on the job at night and should be asleep when the sun is out, his or her internal body clock needs to be trained to make this fact the norm. The problem arises when this does not occur. And yet, it is possible to get sleep and still work the night shift. Why? There are shift workers who do not have a problem getting rest during the day and thus might actually be night owls. However, sleep symptoms involving staying alert, feeling tired, poor concentration, sleepiness at work might also be attributed to other problems besides shift work. There could be a different sleep disorder or medical issue at play so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis.
What Is the Next Step?
The next step is going to a physician who can shed light on whether or not your sleep issue is due to shift-work syndrome and might suggest keeping a sleep journal and/or undergoing an actigraphy test. Many people are familiar with keeping a food journal/diary to keep a watchful eye on food and calorie intake and the same concept can be equally as beneficial when it comes to sleep. Keeping a sleep journal can help paint an accurate picture of the quality and length of sleep by jotting down the following:
- Work hours
- When you sleep
- How much you sleep
- How you feel when you wake up
- When do you feel tired
- Do you fall asleep at work
Actigraphy is a diagnostic test that analyzes your movements during the day and night with a device that is worn on the wrist. The device provides data as to when you are awake and asleep.
How Can You Still Work the Night Shift and Get Sleep?
Many of the people who have shift-work syndrome can lessen their symptoms by following many of the same principles that assist individuals in getting a better night of sleep. Just follow these tips:
- Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Even better would be to wear a sleep mask or purchase black-out curtains.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal before you go to sleep.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, black tea and caffeinated beverages prior to bedtime.
- Eat healthy and get exercise.
- Reduce stress.
Your doctor might have you start with these lifestyle modifications. If needed, the next recommendation might be phototherapy (light therapy) before starting your night shift to fool your brain into thinking it is daytime and thus keeping you alert while at work.
When you are a shift worker, it is important to take care of your health. Researchers have discovered that people who work night shifts are at higher risk for other health issues versus those people who work during the day. There is a higher incidence of the following:
- Cancer, specifically breast and prostate
- Flu and colds
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
If you suspect you might have shift-work syndrome or sleep apnea, or been diagnosed and would like to find out what individualized treatment option might be available for you, contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.