Shift Work Sleep Disorder is actually a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. It is characterized by insomnia and excessive sleepiness. Anyone that has a work schedule that is outside of the typical ‘9 to 5’ is a shift worker. Businesses in the United States in the past few decades have become increasingly dependent upon shift workers to meet the demands of our 24-hour society.

Employees working in positions for more than 10 years have shown a drastically increased rate of heart disease and gastrointestinal disease. Shift work sleeping disorders can have devastating long term effects on employees. Unlike other sleep disorders, shift work disorder can affect all age groups and both genders.  Those who alternate between a day or afternoon shift and a night shift are much more likely to encounter problems than those alternating between just a day and afternoon shift. The sleeping schedules of those working alternating day and afternoon shifts are not drastically altered, resulting in a difference in sleeping times of roughly 1-2 hours.

Symptoms from Shift Work Disorder

The main complaint for people of unbalanced sleep is increased tiredness. Other symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Disrupted sleep schedules
  • Reduced performance
  • Difficulties with personal relationships
  • Irritability/depressed mood

Using Light Therapy for Shift Work Disorder

The light-dark cycle is the most important cue for improving circadian adaptation in night workers. Using light therapy for shift workers is to improve sleep while off work and alertness and productivity while at work. To maximize a delay of the body clock, bright light exposure should occur in the evening or the first part of the night, and it should be avoided in the morning.

Consult your physician or a sleep specialist if you work alternating shifts, especially an alternating shift that includes night shifts. You may be asked to take a sleeping test during both phases of your shift work routine to help determine where your problems may lie and what can be done to alleviate them.


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