How to manage shift work sleep disorder

October 23, 2020 3 mins read
How to manage shift work sleep disorder

In the UK, 22% of the labour force are shift workers and are at risk of being exposed to shift work sleep disorder.

If you work a regular 9 to 5 job, then you would typically be able to get 7-9 hours of sleep at night. But if you’re a shift worker, then you have to contend with 1 to 4 hours less sleep because of your irregular work schedule.

The effects of working against your natural body clock or circadian rhythm can impact your health, safety and performance at work. Find out what this disorder is and how to effectively manage it.

What is shift work sleep disorder?

Shift work sleep disorder is the misalignment of the body and its circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. According to the Sleep Foundation, circadian rhythms are guided mainly by natural light and darkness. So during the day, your eyes take in light, and this triggers the brain to produce and release cortisol. This hormone keeps you alert and vigilant.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is released, which brings on the feeling of sleepiness. When you have shift work sleep disorder, your biological clock is thrown off and your brain might not release those hormones at the times it should because of your irregular working hours. This can make you feel excessively sleepy, tired and unrefreshed even after you’ve rested.

What are the symptoms?

With shift work, you might experience short- and long-term effects with studies showing you are 6 times more likely to have an accident linked to fatigue. You could also be at risk of physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms which are outlined below.

  • Feeling irritable and moody
  • Poor quality sleep
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • A lack of energy
  • Trouble with relationships
  • A lack of focus

5 Ways to manage shift work sleep disorder

To combat the effects of shift work sleep disorder, you can practise sleep hygiene, a combination of healthy activities that will help you sleep better. Sleep hygiene can also help you feel more alert the next day as you feel refreshed and ready for a productive day. Essentially, including the following practises in your daily routine can help you deal with shift work disorder.

1. Try to maintain a schedule, where possible

Daily structure is key in managing shift worker disorder, so for example, waking up and sleeping at the same time every day will bring some regularity to your body clock.

2. Manage sunlight exposure

Reduce your time in the sun so that you prevent your body from triggering the daytime internal biological clock. This goes for artificial light as well, avoid it so that you don’t activate your circadian rhythm’s response to light to produce wake-inducing hormones.

3. Nap when possible

Catch a nap before or during your shift to raise your energy level and to improve concentration. Studies show that napping for at least 30 minutes increases stamina and performance while boosting your memory.

4. Maintain a balanced diet

Get your daily dose of fruits, vegetables, protein and grains to help your body conserve and release energy for night shift work. A healthy diet will also help you sleep better, so check out this list of what to eat for good sleep.

5. Avoid long commutes

Travelling long distances to and from work can take time away from your sleep schedule so, where you can, try and avoid long commutes to put that time towards getting some shut-eye.

Shift work and sleep deprivation

Do you sometimes find yourself skipping out on sleep and planning sleep-ins on the weekend or your off days? Then you could soon feel the damaging effects of sleep deprivation which range from poor judgement and memory issues to long-lasting effects such as diabetes and heart disease.

While shift work is a necessary part of your work life, you can still enjoy quality sleep by having a self-care routine coupled with good sleep hygiene and a schedule that will help you be productive and rejuvenated.