Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift work sleep disorder is defined as a problem which alters your body’s 24-hour internal clock (known as circadian rhythm) due to the abrupt changes in the work schedules of a person i.e. from day job to night shift.

Light helps the body know when to be active and awake while dark is a cue for the body to rest and sleep. And, among the many different types of shift work, night shifts are the most disruptive to the circadian system.

Working at night (graveyard shift) and sleeping during the day, makes the body’s internal clock reset the body to sleep during the day and be awake at night. Adjusting to that is a very hard thing to do indeed.

sleeping problems with shift work

Such working hours interfere not only with the body clock but also the homeostatic regulation of sleep – sleep drive – as well. It causes negative effects on sleep, subject’s sleepiness due to sleep deprivation, poor performance and accident risks (through being drowsy which can lead to loss of observation and alertness).

It can also cause gastrointestinal disorders because of the lack of food options available. Night shift workers sometimes just opt for junk foods, and revert to drinking tea and coffee to keep them awake the whole time.

coffee and shift work

Respiratory problems are also possible due to increased cigarette smoking and, of course, lack of sleep itself which all weaken the immune system. Fatigue as well as cardiovascular disease and cancer can also happen.

Shift work can definitely alter the body’s circadian system and make any existing disorders worse.

These health issues may be due by the disruption of the circadian rhythm that is caused by exposure to light at night. Such exposure will alter sleep-activity patterns, prevents melatonin production and impairs the genes involved in cancer development

All of these results from the clashing between the day-oriented circadian physiology of the body and the need to work and sleep at the incorrect biological time of day.

Another type of shift work that also negatively impairs sleep is any work schedule greater than 10 hours. This makes the individual very vulnerable to having great sleepiness during the night which leads to poor performance and insomnia (inability to sleep) at day.

overwork and sleep problems

Whereas some treatments may be given by doctors to counter the negative impact of shift work on night time sleepiness and daytime insomnia, there still seems to be no way to alleviate most of the negative effects of shift work on a person’s cognition and body physiology.

Next is rotational shift work. This is a term given to such work schedules that enforce shift rotations or changes on a set schedule. These kind of shifts are either continuous (meaning going on for a complete 24 hours or 7 days). They can also be semi-continuous, working 2 or 3 shifts per day with or without a day off. Workers are subject to take turns with on all shifts that are part of a particular schedule.

This kind of rotational shift work is common in hospitals, hotels, inns, lodge houses, industrial jobs, airlines, trucking, customs and immigration, mines and BPOs.

Fixed shift work (fixed straight nights, straight afternoons or straight days) is also a type of shift work of which schedules consist of working hours and working days that are generally the same from week to week.

This kind of schedule allows the employee’s body to adjust to a different circadian rhythm. Fixed shift workers do not experience circadian rhythm issues for the first and second shifts. It’s the employee working on the third shift (night schedule) who often rotate their biological clocks.

On the other hand, workers on fixed night shifts and on rotational shift work schedules have a lot in common because of the constantly changing work schedules, night work and potential alterations and problems to their family and social lives.

A shift worker, especially the one who works at nights, must function on a schedule that is not “natural”. These workers often feel tired and lazy as they do not get much-needed sleep during the daytime.

Shift workers experience a lot of work schedule changes which makes them somewhat disconnected from social life.

no social life with shift work

However, even though shift works can be tasky and tedious, employees can still benefit from this situation…

Shift workers have the privilege of choosing a work schedule that is more convenient for them.

And they have no problem doing errands they need to do at day because they work at nights. Also, they don’t need to wait for weekends to do all the essentials. Not to mention avoiding the rush hours which daytime workers battle every day.

One more thing is that they can adjust their schedule if, for example, they arrive to work late. And in cases where the work hasn’t been completed by the shift’s end, the next worker will simply continue the job. Less stress!

Contrary to what people might think, shift work does not require too many working hours. Employees enjoy more rest and breaks. They can also swap leave periods with co-workers whenever needed.

Shift workers can cope very well with different aspects of work with increased yields of productivity as compared to regular workers who handles all the work singlehandedly.

As with other health problems, there are ways to counteract or lessen the effects of sleep deprivation to an individual.

Doctors can give tips to as how to keep a worker’s health in tune. The doctor may prescribe a sleeping pill to help you sleep at the proper time. But sleeping pills can only ever be a short-term remedy. You may develop a side effect, dependency or a tolerance to it in time

Melatonin supplements are also given as vitamins rather than medicines to help workers adjust better to a shift work schedule. It is a natural hormone from the brain’s pineal gland which signals when the body is supposed to sleep. A dose of 0.5 mg is prescribed and should be taken few hours before the planned time of sleep.

Whenever possible, take a nap during breaks or before reporting for a night shift. A nap of 20 to 30 minutes can help improve your alertness while working.


Do not drive home as you may fall asleep on the road. Taking a bus or cab is more advisable. Or ask somebody to collect you.

Drink moderate amounts of caffeine in order to stay awake on the job. Refrain from taking coffee in the later hours of your shift so that you may fall asleep when it is time to go to bed.

Avoid the light if you need to sleep during the day. Wear eye masks if you’re curtain isn’t thick enough to cover the sunlight.

Tell others in your home as well as neighbors of your work schedule. They should help keep the home and surroundings quiet when they know that you need to sleep.


We can see that shift work is not for everyone but it certainly has some advantages as well as drawbacks.

Take note of the advice above if you work irregular hours and try to make the best of the situation. It is a sleep disorder but one which you can work against better than some more serious varieties.

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