Shift Work and Sleep

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to get fewer hours of sleep overall than traditional workers is not known. Also, shift workers often miss out on important family and social events due to their work schedules. Most managers recognize that understanding and addressing these issues improves employee morale, performance, safety and health, and can dramatically improve the bottom line of the company.

People who work in the transportation industry face some of the most serious challenges. They battle fatigue because of their irregular sleep schedules and endure long tedious hours at the controls or behind the wheel. In fact, research suggests that drowsy driving caused by sleep deprivation is one of the leading safety hazards in the transportation industry.

According to the International Classifications of Sleep Disorders, shift work sleep disorder is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Circadian rhythm refers to the ~24hr rhythmic output of the human biological clock. It is considered a disorder because of the frequency with which people suffer from sleep disturbance and excessive sleepiness in trying to adapt to a shift work schedule.

SYMPTOMS:

The main complaint for people with shift work sleep disorder is excessive sleepiness. Other symptoms include:

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

TREATMENT:

Unfortunately, treatment for shift work sleep disorder is limited. Both behavioral and pharmacological remedies can help alleviate symptoms. Some research indicates that the body may never fully adapt to shift work, especially for those who switch to a normal weekend sleep schedule. But there are ways of getting adequate sleep while doing shift work.

COPING:

If you are a shift worker and have difficulty sleeping during the day, chances are you also have difficulty staying awake at work. Also, the more sleepy/fatigued you are, the more likely you are to experience a "microsleep," an involuntary bout of sleep brought on by sleep deprivation that lasts for a few seconds.

Here are some tips for staying alert on the job:

  • Avoid long commutes and extended hours.
  • Take short nap breaks throughout the shift.
  • Work with others to help keep you alert.
  • Try to be active during breaks (e.g., take