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Do you have Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

Many youngsters today are getting lucrative job offers from BPOs and call centres that work mostly night shifts. There are also many other industries where work happens in shifts with different set of workers for different shifts. While the work of all these companies goes on 24 x 7, the employees may need to keep adjusting to their day or night shift times and accordingly change their sleeping pattern.

It is these people who suffer from Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD).

What is Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

It is basically a problem of our internal body clock. Human Beings have been made in such a way that our body is light sensitive. When it is daytime, with natural sun light, our body is most active and when it is night and darkness all around, our body is programmed to rest and sleep. Now although there are many nocturnal animals of the human kind out there who will vouch that they work best at night, most human being cannot do that without affecting their fitness and health.

When you sleep during the day and work at night, the body’s internal clock has to be rewired to the adjustment and sometimes it is hard to do so.

Who is affected most?

  • People working night shifts
  • People working early morning shifts like those who get up at 4.00 am daily for work and do not sleep till 11.00 pm
  • People with constantly changing shift timings at work

How to know if you have the disorder?

There are many people who do work in shifts but not necessarily everyone can have the disorder. Some people can possibly take the pressure of working at night and sleeping by the day. Others have low sleep needs and therefore wake up fresh even if they have slept only 3-4 hours. Others have a better adjustment system and therefore their body sleep pattern changes as and when required.

But if you see yourself repeatedly dosing off at work and trying hard to concentrate, it might be that you are not the one made for shift work and are lacking sleep.

To know if you really are suffering from SWSD you can keep yourself a sleep diary. This is simply noting down your daily sleep and work pattern by answering questions like how much time did you sleep in a day, at what time you slept, what were your working hours, did you feel totally awake and fresh when you woke up etc. You can continue doing this exercise of keeping a sleep diary for a week or two and then ask an expert doctor to check whether your sleep pattern shows any signs of stress and lack of sleep.

The doctor may then ask you more questions related to sleep like if you are taking any medications, if you have any health problems and then decide whether you have the sleep disorder or not.

How SWSD affects your health?

The commonest of all the health problems associated with lack of sleep is increased stress. Other health effects are,

  • Increased risk of catching infection like cold
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure levels
  • Higher risk of cancer
  • Higher risk of obesity
  • Higher risk of heart attacks

What can you do to sleep better in spite of the shifts?

The simplest solution to tackle SWSD would be to get back to a normal routine where you work day and sleep nights. But under most circumstances especially when your company is paying you to work at a time when the other side of the world is awake, this change is not possible. Therefore, you can make your sleep time such that it fools the body into believing that you are actually sleeping at night.

This can be done by keeping your sleep environment dark and quite. The following suggestions can help you achieve maximum peace and sleep,

  • Sleep in a darkened room but pulling all the curtains and add dark curtains if needed.
  • You can also use an eye mask.
  • Sometimes even the bright red light of a charger or a DVD player can be distracting. Avoid staring at them by putting a cloth on top.
  • Wear cotton ear plugs to block sounds.
  • When coming back from work, wear dark glasses to make your body get tuned to the darkness slowly as if it is dusk time and not dawn.
  • If there is a distracting sound in the house that cannot be avoided, play a white noise in your room like soft music that cuts the harsh outdoor sound.
  • Keep the room neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Eat healthy diet and avoid high calorie highly fattening food like pizzas, burgers and fries.
  • Sleep with loose clothes on.
  • Do not take alcohol or caffeine two hours before going to bed.
  • Ask family members to not disturb you when you are sleeping accept in emergency situations.
  • Take a sleep medicine only after consultation with a doctor.
  • To stay alert at work, your doctor may ask you to take caffeine or a cola to help you remain awake. But this should only be taken in the beginning of the shift.
  • Doctor may also try phototherapy when your body has trouble remaining awake at night. This is simply being in a brightly lit room for a few minutes before work to accustom your body to the brightness and not the natural darkness of the night that leads it to fall asleep.

Image Credit carbonnyc and jayceh via cc/Flickr

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6 Responses

  1. for railway expressguards it is very useful informationmadam&.thanks a lot.

  2. I have the problem of insomnia. What would I do?

  3. really informative

  4. sleeping is a most important for person. Ever person require for
    sleeping 5 to6 hours dairly. It is not good to sleep every time
    that is not good for health .

    • That is exactly what the article points out Krishna, but there are many who work in such jobs that they can’t help but sleep at odd hours. For them it is easy to get SWSD.