What is shift work sleep disorder?

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

How can shift work cause sleep problems?

Shift work sleep disorder is trouble sleeping because you work nights or rotating shifts. Light is a cue to be awake. Darkness tells your body to sleep. When you work nights and sleep during the day, your internal clock needs to reset to let you sleep during the day. Sometimes that's hard to do.

What are the symptoms of shift work sleep disorder?

Symptoms include not being able to sleep during the day. And even if you do sleep, you might not feel rested. You might have trouble staying awake or alert when you are supposed to work your shift. Other symptoms include problems concentrating at home and at work.

How is shift work sleep disorder treated?

Treatment may include short-term use of prescription medicine or over-the-counter supplements. It may also include following a regular routine for going to sleep and waking up. This may include naps. Try to sleep someplace that's quiet, dark, and cool. Using caffeine or light (phototherapy) at certain times may help you stay alert.

How is shift work sleep disorder diagnosed?

To diagnose shift work sleep problems, your doctor will use a sleep journal and possibly sleep studies. He or she will ask about your work hours, when and how much you sleep, and how you feel when you wake up. Your doctor also will ask if you feel very tired or fall asleep at work.

Sleeping better when you work nights

Sometimes sleep problems can be fixed only by switching to a regular work schedule—working in the day and sleeping at night. But many people are able to work the night shift by making a few changes. Here are a few examples.

  • Have a regular sleep schedule.

    This includes a regular schedule for meals and social activity.

  • Control light, sound, and temperature.
    • Make sure that the room where you sleep is dark. Use blackout drapes or wear a sleep eye mask.
    • Put a towel over bright digital devices, such as a clock.
    • Wear earplugs to block sounds.
    • Try using a fan or "white noise" machine. This may be useful if there is distracting sound in the house or neighborhood that you can't avoid.
    • Keep your bedroom temperature cool.
    Wear dark wraparound glasses when you drive home in the daylight hours after working nights. This can counter some of the effect of light so your body will be more ready to sleep when you get home.
  • Take care of yourself, and get support.
    • Eat a healthy diet. Some people who work night shifts gain weight because they eat high-calorie or high-fat meals.
    • Don't have alcohol or caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime.
    • Get regular exercise.
    • Take a nap before work or during a work break if you can.
    • Ask family members not to wake you during your sleep time, except for an emergency.
  • Ask your doctor before you try a dietary supplement or medicine.

    Doctors usually advise people to use a supplement or medicine only for a short time. The dietary supplement melatonin may help improve your sleep. A man-made form of melatonin is available without a prescription. Your doctor can tell you how much to take and when to take it.

    Your doctor may prescribe sleep medicine for a limited time to help you fall asleep.

  • Use caffeine only early in your shift.

    You may find that the caffeine in coffee or soda drinks helps you stay alert. But it could keep you awake when you get home in the morning.

  • Try treatment with light (phototherapy) before a work shift to help you stay alert.

    Your doctor can recommend how and when to use light as a treatment.

What is shift work sleep disorder?

Shift work sleep disorder means having trouble sleeping because you work nights or rotating shifts. It involves a problem with your body's 24-hour internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This trouble sleeping can affect your daily life and your health.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.