In the United States, approximately two out of every five workers are at work during non-traditional times. Shift work sleep disorder occurs when an employee’s work schedule disrupts their circadian rhythm, or “biological clock”. Typically, the circadian rhythm regulates wakefulness and sleepiness over a 24-hour cycle and responds to periods of light and dark. Each person can relate differently to shift work depending on their age, health, and fitness level. While some may find it easy to adapt, others may not. The Cleveland Clinic has estimated that 10 to 40 percent of shift workers experience symptoms of shift work sleep disorder, and those who have regularly shifting schedules are at greater risk.
What are the symptoms of shift work disorder?
- Excessive sleepiness
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Emotional fatigue
- Declined immune system function
What are risks associated with shift work disorder?
- Work-related injuries
- Decreased productivity
- Increased errors at work
- Increased absenteeism and presenteeism
- Accidents related to drowsy driving
- Substance dependency due to the use of drugs or alcohol to fall asleep
Tips for employees
- If working night shifts, restrict energy intake between midnight and six am.
- Eat breakfast before your day sleep to avoid waking up from hunger.
- Set up your environment to make it more conducive for day sleeping; air conditioning, earplugs, eye masks, and quality curtains can improve sleeping conditions.
- Try to establish a set schedule to facilitate sleeping during the day.
- Avoid doing 10 years of consecutive shift work.
Tips for employers
- Allow adequate time between shifts for sleep and meal preparation.
- Schedule no more than five to seven shifts in a row, no more than two nights in a row.
- Make sure that the workplace is brightly lit.
- Provide at least 48 hours’ notice before shift changes to allow the employee to adjust.
- Provide annual health screens to monitor employee’s health and evaluate sleep problems.
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A demographic profile of U.S. workers around the clock. PRB. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://www.prb.org/resources/a-demographic-profile-of-u-s-workers-around-the-clock/
The effects of shift work on health full report. IOSH. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://iosh.com/media/1571/the-effects-of-shift-work-on-health-full-report.pdf
Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD): Symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12146-shift-work-sleep-disorder