Not every job is 9 to 5. Many people work second shift, third shift, double shifts, and/or rotating shifts.
About 20 percent of workers in the U.S. perform some kind of shift work. Unfortunately, working shifts while it’s dark outside can lead to a disruption in sleep called shift-work sleep disorder (SWSD).
SWSD occurs due to the disruption in the natural circadian rhythm, which makes you want to sleep when it’s dark outside and be awake when it’s light. Your circadian rhythm is based on a 24-hour day, and it is largely guided by your body’s naturally instinctive reaction to sunlight or lack of it. All animals have a circadian rhythm, and even plants and microorganisms have it.
When Are the Natural Sleep Times?
Most of us have an internal sleep clock that naturally causes sleepiness at night and wakefulness during the day when the sun is up. Even without the ability to see outside at all, we would tend to fall sleep at night and wake up in the morning.
Variations in the timing of sleeping and waking can lead to sleep problems. People who work the night shift probably expect to have at least a little difficulty staying awake all night.
This can sometimes resolve over time with the force of habit. However, those with swing shifts or sensitivity to the schedule may develop SWSD – and up to 40 percent of shift workers do.
Symptoms of Shift-Work Sleep Disorder
People with SWSD may have one or more of these symptoms:
- Frequent difficulty staying awake when they need to be alert and awake
- Inability to sleep when it is time to rest (insomnia)
- Poor-quality sleep even when they have slept more than a few hours
- Waking up unrefreshed, still feeling tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Instability in personal relationships
People with SWSD who fight excessive sleepiness may even nod off multiple times during work, falling asleep for at least a few seconds. It can even happen while operating a vehicle.
These obvious dangers, along with the serious health issues that can eventually develop from chronic sleep deprivation, make getting the right treatment for shift-work sleep disorder a must.
Treating Shift-Work Sleep Disorder
The first line of treatment for SWSD is behavioral. Learning about good sleep habits, such as turning off screens and dedicating your bedroom solely to rest, may help. It’s also a good idea to have thick or dark curtains in your bedroom so you can curtail the sunlight when you’re trying to sleep.
Napping for a few minutes during your shift, or when overcome with sleepiness at home, helps some people a great deal. Many people also benefit from visualization and meditation techniques to fall asleep, such as visualizing the color gray or white and not allowing any other thoughts. One other way to help is by wearing sunglasses when you are driving home from work in the morning.
If these methods are not effective, your doctor may prescribe medication to promote alertness at night and/or sleep during the day. Some medications that increase alertness, such as modafinil or armodafinil, are not traditional stimulants (like amphetamines or caffeine).
These medicines are non-habit-forming, and they act against the body’s sleep schedule to increase chemicals in the brain that are normally active during the day. However, some sleep aids are habit-forming and should only be used temporarily and infrequently.
Sleep Medicine Specialist in North Carolina
At Gingras Sleep Medicine, Dr. Jeannine Gingras helps shift workers with shift-work sleep disorder and all other kinds of sleep problems. Dr. Gingras is board-certified and has dedicated her practice to sleep medicine since 1999.
To schedule an appointment with a sleep doctor who can help you, call us at (704) 944-0562 today or fill out our appointment request form. We have convenient locations in Concord and Charlotte, and we would love to see you and help you get a good night’s sleep – even if it must happen during the daytime.