Shift work sleep disorder is defined as sleep deprivation and a decline in mental function and physical ability due to working outside of the normal daylight hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
According to the Cleveland Clinic up to 20 percent of the American population work shift work (anything outside of 7am-6pm). Additionally, 30 percent of American workers report receiving less than 6 hours of sleep per night, up from 24 percent in the 1980s. This population is at an increased risk for chronic illnesses such as heart and gastrointestinal disease, as well as difficulty concentrating, headaches, and excessive fatigue. While shift work greatly increases production and customer service, ignoring the needs of the shift work costs billions in yearly costs and leads to thousands of deaths.
According to the CDC, working shift work is also linked to “poorer sleep, circadian rhythm disturbances, and strains on family and social life. It is not possible to eliminate shift work altogether, so the challenge is to develop strategies to make critical services available while keeping workers healthy and everyone around them safe” (2015).
Strategies to improve sleep center around the responsibility of the worker. Shift workers must make sleep a priority, and make sure to keep a consistent sleep schedule even on the weekends. They should also minimize sunlight exposure on the way home if working a night shift to avoid activating their internal ‘daytime clock’, and go to bed as soon as they get home.
Other strategies include:
- Avoid long commutes and extended hours.
- Take short nap breaks throughout the shift.
- Work with others to help keep you alert.
- Try to be active during breaks (e.g., take a walk, shoot hoops in the parking lot, or even exercise).
- Drink a caffeinated beverage (coffee, tea, colas) to help maintain alertness during the shift.
- Don’t leave the most tedious or boring tasks to the end of your shift when you are apt to feel the drowsiest. Night shift workers are most sleepy around 4-5 a.m.
- Exchange ideas with your colleagues on ways to cope with the problems of shift work. Set up a support group at work so that you can discuss these issues and learn from each other.
Improved sleep hygiene will not only allow a worker to feel better, but will also reduce strain on personal relationships and decrease the risk of long-term health effects. Employers also benefit from giving employees proper time off to recover. roper time off is considered:
- 1-2 days rest following 5 consecutive 8-hour days or 4 consecutive 10-hour days
- 2 days rest following 3 consecutive 12-hour days
Benefits to the employer include increased productivity, decreased errors, decreased absenteeism and presenteeism, decreased worker healthcare and compensation costs, and decreased medical errors, vehicle crashes and industrial disasters.
Bottom line is get your sleep at home so you don’t have to get it on the job!
Cleveland Clinic Foundation. (2013). Shift work sleep disorder. Accessed on February 26, 2015 from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/neurological_institute/sleep-disorders-center/disorders-conditions/hic-shift-work-sleep-disorder
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Sleep and work. Accessed on February 26, 2015 from http://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2012/03/08/sleep-and-work/
National Sleep Foundation. (2015). Shift work and sleep. Accessed on February 26, 2015 from http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/shift-work-and-sleep