Shift work is common place for several different industries. Hospitals must provide patient care around the clock. Manufacturing companies have long employed shift work to optimize production in efforts to remain competitive in a worldwide market.
It is becoming ever popular for some restaurants, gas stations and pharmacies to stay open for 24 hours. Consequently, employees often take advantage of night shift hours for extra money or out of a sheer need for work.
For those of you working a night shift, the challenges are evident. The disruption in sleep while transitioning to and from working night hours is the most difficult obstacle to overcome. As a result, you may have experienced sleep abnormalities. Those sleep problems and the complications associated with them are known as shift work disorder.
Shift work disorder is more often referred to as shift work sleep disorder because of the direct negative impact on sleep patterns. Normal sleep patterns are governed by our circadian rhythm which is the 24 hour physiological cycle of our bodies. In fact, shift work sleep disorder is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Variations in brain activity and hormone production have been observed within daily cycles. The processes in those daily cycles determine sleep and eating habits in humans. Because of the consistency of those processes, many people refer to circadian rhythm as the body clock.
Shift work disorder symptoms are born of inconsistent sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. Insomnia is perhaps the most common symptom associated with shift work disorder. Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep as well as difficulty staying asleep.
When you are beginning a night shift, the transition period from normal sleep patterns to staying awake for potentially 24 hours will certainly contribute to cases of insomnia. The same can be said when you come off a night shift to transition back to normal sleep-wake cycles. In addition to transitioning patterns, sleeping during the day while working a night shift causes problems.
Most shift schedules are intermittent and the body clock does not have time to adjust. The physiological processes of normal circadian rhythms will be off. Also, light-dark cycles are an important environmental trigger for circadian rhythms and make it extraordinarily difficult to fall asleep during the day compared to at night.
The sleep deprivation caused by insomnia will lead to excessive sleepiness during periods of wake time. That sleepiness can lead to unintended dozing and greater desires to nap during times of being awake.
Other complications include feeling fatigued, increased irritability and mood disturbances. If you experience these symptoms, you may also notice difficulty concentrating and performing at your highest levels. Studies have even demonstrated increases in cancer risk, digestive disorders and menstrual irregularities in people suffering from shift work disorder.
Shift Work Disorder Treatment
Fortunately, options are available for help. Shift work disorder treatment plans have been established to reduce disturbances in body clock cycles. Experts believe that extending shift cycles to allow for more time to adjust is ideal.
Similarly, having gradual changes in transitional periods is better than sudden changes. It has been proven that taking a short nap, 20-30 minutes, before a night shift can help keep away feelings of being tired or fatigued.
Bright light therapy has been instituted to help workers better adapt to circadian cycles needed for night work. For sleeping during the day, it is terribly important to have a dark, quiet environment with no interruptions.
Furthermore, medicinal options are available for shift work sleep disorder treatment. Caffeine is by far used the most in helping workers stay awake and alert. Melatonin supplements have been administered to help the body clock reset to normal rhythms sooner. Prescription sleep medications are popular in helping restore deep sleep, especially for sleeping during the day.
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