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Shift Work Sleep Disorder: The Bane of Shift Workers

Not all people are fortunate enough to work on a steady nine to five pace. Around 20% of workers in the United States engage in shift work, which means that these people have irregular and rotating work schedules that cover day and night shifts. While most institutions go for eight-hour shifts, some workers have to work for 12 hours straight, depending on their contract. Occupations associated with shift work include doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers.

Because of the erratic schedule of these workers, they are more prone to the development of a condition known as Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD). SWSD is most commonly associated with people who work between 10PM to 6AM, and people with this condition experience sleep problems due to their interrupted sleeping pattern.

What are the symptoms of SWSD?

SWSD has two common symptoms, and those are excessive sleepiness and difficulty in sleeping. Both of these stem out from having an irregular sleeping pattern. These symptoms can result to difficulty in concentrating, lack of energy, increased irritability and/or depression, and occurrence of headaches and migraine.

Because of these symptoms, those who experience SWSD are at risk for accidents and errors in the workplace. Their professional and personal relationships are also affected because of their unpredictable mood swings. Studies also show that they are at higher risk for developing ulcers, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance.

How can you manage SWSD?

Sleep should be a priority for people with SWSD. Unlike people with normal shifts, people working in night shifts cannot use daylight as a cue for waking up. Instead, they have to find a way to sleep even when it is sunny and bright outside. Here are some tips to help you sleep during the daytime:

  • Create a quiet and peaceful environment inside your room.
  • Ask other members of your household to minimise their noise and use headphones as necessary.
  • Minimise exposure to daylight. Install thick curtains in your room to make it look dark.
  • Follow regular bedtime rituals, if you have any, such as drinking milk and taking a warm shower before sleeping.
  • Sleep as soon as you come home from work in order to complete eight hours of sleep per day.
  • Ask not to be disturbed while sleeping.
  • Limit caffeine intake before sleeping.
  • Ask your doctor for any sleeping aids if you can’t really catch a wink in the morning.

Aside from trying to regularise your sleeping schedule as much as possible, you can also do the following guidelines in order to manage SWSD:

  • Limit the number of night shifts in a row. The longer you stay on a night shift, the longer you are deprived of sleep. For those with 12-hour shifts, their night shifts should be limited to four in a row, with at least 48 hours of rest in between.
  • Avoid going on overtime or extending your work hours.
  • Avoid rotating shifts frequently. If you must really do it, request for a schedule that rotates from day shift to evening shift to night shift, since it is easier to adjust that way.
  • Schedule a short nap before going on a night shift in order to improve alertness.
  • Maintain a sleep diary to help identify SWSD symptoms.

Even though not all shift workers experience SWSD, those who do should consult their physicians right away in order to prevent any untoward incidents.


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