Shift workers are known to have different working hours from workers in general. It can unwittingly affect their overall lifestyle, including sleep schedules. Shift workers are at risk for a sleep problem called shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).
Launching from the Sleep Foundation website, the term ‘shift work’ refers to work schedules outside of 7am and 6pm. Because they have work schedules that conflict with most people’s biological schedules, shift workers are at risk of developing shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). If left untreated, SWSD can lead to more serious health problems. Here’s the review.
What is Shift Work Sleep Disorder?
Shift work sleep disorder is a sleep disorder that can be experienced by people who work with unusual work schedules. For example the shift system or working at night. This sleep disorder is characterized by excessive sleepiness. When you wake up feeling sleep deprived, and suddenly fall asleep. These symptoms can interfere with work and leisure time.
SWSD can occur in shift workers due to unusual work schedules. This can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm or biological clock. This rhythm regulates the body’s time to be awake and sleepy at relatively fixed times throughout the day.
Not only regulating sleepiness, circadian rhythms also affect alertness levels, body temperature, hormone levels and hunger. You can experience symptoms that cause frustration, if the rhythm is disturbed.
Launching from the Cleveland Clinic, it is estimated that there are about 10-40 percent of shift workers who experience shift work sleep disorders. However, not everyone who works on a shift system experiences this sleep disorder. Many of them are also able to maintain their circadian rhythm by turning into ‘night owls’, thus avoiding SWSD.
Symptoms of Shift Work Sleep Disorder
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s International Classification of Sleep Disorders (Third Edition), there are two main symptoms of shift work sleep disorder:
People with shift work sleep disorder often have difficulty falling asleep or insomnia. Symptoms of insomnia experienced by each sufferer can be different according to their shift. For example, workers who have shifts between 4-7 am, often have difficulty sleeping. Meanwhile, those who work at night tend to stay awake at night. The average person with SWSD loses 1-4 hours of sleep per night.
- Excessive Sleepiness
SWSD can also cause fatigue and reduced alertness when the person is working at night or early in the morning. They often feel the need to take a nap at least once during their shift. That is why this sleep disorder can reduce the performance of the sufferer and pose a safety risk.
Many shift workers have trouble sleeping when they start working with unusual hours. In order to be diagnosed with SWSD, workers must experience recurring symptoms for at least three months. Then show disturbed sleep and wake patterns for at least two weeks.
Complications of SWSD That Endanger Safety
Shift work sleep disorder can cause serious long-term complications, including:
- Serious Illness
SWSD can put a person at higher risk for various medical conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders.
- Alcohol and Drug Addiction
Many people with shift work sleep disorder try to consume alcohol or drugs to improve the quality of their sleep. Long-term use of alcohol and sleeping pills can lead to drug and alcohol dependence syndrome.
- Poor Diet
Several studies have linked SWSD to unhealthy eating habits. For example, eating snacks in excess or consuming junk food, which in turn can lead to obesity.
- Work safety
The combination of fatigue and impaired concentration puts people with shift work sleep disorders at risk for accidents, whether at work or on the go.
If you are a shift worker and experience symptoms of insomnia or excessive sleepiness, don’t let it go. Immediately consult a doctor to confirm the diagnosis and get treatment.
Lifestyle to Overcome Shift Work Sleep Disorder
Many people cannot avoid the shift work system. However, there are several lifestyles that you can do to relieve the symptoms of SWSD:
- Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, including on holidays.
- If possible, take two days off after a series of night shifts.
- Take a nap whenever possible.
- Limit caffeine intake four hours before bedtime.
- Keep a healthy diet by eating more fruits and vegetables.
- Make the room atmosphere comfortable when you want to sleep, such as dimming the room light, and asking family members or colleagues who live in the same house to reduce noise.
- Take a nap about 30-60 minutes before your shift.
- Wear sunglasses when you get home from work in the morning. This method can help prevent the ‘afternoon’ hours from being active, so you can fall asleep.
Well, that’s an explanation of shift work sleep disorder that shift workers need to watch out for.