11 Tips To Combat Shift Work Sleep Disorder

shift work sleep disorder

In this article, we’ll discuss some powerful tips to help you deal with Shift Work Sleep Disorder.

Overview

Shift Work Sleep Disorder is a chronic condition that is linked to a person’s work schedule which, in turn, disrupts his/her sleep schedule. There is misalignment or de-synchronization in sleep patterns. Workers face problems sleeping when sleep is desired at odd hours.

Shift workers only get to sleep when the body is supposed to be active and least people are expected to be asleep. Worsening the situation, there are interruptions that prevent a night of sound sleep. Sleep deprivation accumulates in successive days and this causes fatigue and stress. Here are some strategies to combat and cope with this issue:

Tips To Deal With Shift Work Sleep Disorder

1. Regular And Consistent Sleep Schedule

Maintaining proper sleep schedules helps in aligning the body clock with the sleep pattern. This does not only ensure an adequate quantity of sleep but also increases the quality of sleep.

It is important to improve daytime sleep quality and a crucial aspect of that is maintaining proper sleep hygiene. One must avoid drinking alcohol and smoking, while also refraining from eating excess food before going to bed.

2. Sleep Anchoring

To ‘anchor’ sleep is a behavioral strategy in which a sleep time slot/period is created that overlaps on working as well as non-working days. This stabilizes the circadian rhythms and helps in improving the quality of sleep.

3. Increase Total Sleep Time

Apart from the long sleeping hours, taking short naps before or immediately after a shift increases sleep time. In addition, it reduces tiredness, fatigue, increases reaction time, and makes workers more alert and vigilant.

4. Taking Long Breaks After Shifts

It is advisable to work an 8-hour shift at the most and not spend 10-12 hours in a single shift. Working for such long hours not only messes the sleep pattern but can also prove detrimental to one’s social life.

It is essential to take long breaks after shifts, during which the mind and body should rest. One must avoid traveling after work or doing any work after reaching home which can be exhausting and tiresome.

5. Maintaining A Healthy Diet

While working in shifts, eating healthy and on time can be a challenge. Workers experience loss of appetite, weight gain/loss, constipation, diarrhea, etc.

  • Eating home-packed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and foods rich in protein can greatly increase the total nutrient intake and prevent drowsiness.
  • A shift-worker might gain weight if he/she eats two main meals during work hours. However, eating before going to work and having one main meal can prevent a sudden gain in weight. Small meals and snack breaks can be distributed over the course of the shift.
  • Some people might find themselves not being able to get sleep due to being empty-stomached or too full. Thus, having healthy snacks like cereal or fruits before going to sleep can be helpful.
  • Eating sweet treats and chocolates give a major energy boost for short periods of time but can make one feel lethargic later. Skipping these and replacing them with protein-based snacks like yogurt or hummus increases productivity and alertness.
  • Staying hydrated is one of the key steps towards attentiveness and feeling energetic during work hours.

6. Sleep-friendly Environment

To get a good sleep in the time off, simple lifestyle adjustments can mitigate these effects and improve your sleep schedule:

  • Sleeping in a cool and clean bedroom ensures that a person rests in a deep sleep and does not worry about his/her surroundings
  • Using an eye mask and heavy shades keeps the room dark and thus, there is no exposure to bright lights. This helps a person to sleep longer along with improving the quality of sleep.
  • Avoid disturbances. Keeping all devices on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode can positively influence sleeping patterns.
  • Use earplugs if living with family or roommates. Interrupted sleep can be unhealthy and can cause one to feel sluggish even after sleeping for long hours.

7. Light Therapy

Exposure to light is a strong signal for the internal clock. Light therapy can help shift workers adjust to irregular sleeping schedules. It can help in altering sleep patterns and making the worker alert and productive during odd shifts.

8. Melatonin Supplements

For shift workers, the natural melatonin production cycle by the body is disturbed. Being exposed to light during the evening or the night, their melatonin production is suppressed.

Lack of proper alignment of melatonin levels and the circadian system contributes to disrupted and disturbed sleep in the day. Taking melatonin as a dietary supplement in the correct dose and at the appropriate time can easily adjust an irregular sleeping schedule.

Bad Habits To Give Up

As much as shift workers need to adopt new lifestyle changes, they also need to give up certain habits and routine activities that might disrupt a healthy life:

  1. Limiting The Consumption Of Caffeine: Caffeine can help workers to stay active during shift hours but it is highly inadvisable to consume caffeine 4-5 hours before sleeping. Shift workers who drink a cup of coffee after the shift is over or when it is about to get over face difficulties sleeping and hence, have disturbed sleep cycles.
  2. Avoid Long Commutes: Driving back home after an eight to ten-hour long shift can be deleterious. It not only takes time away from sleeping hours but can also cause major road accidents.
  3. Minimize Sun Exposure After A Long Shift: Morning sunlight can activate the internal ‘daytime clock’ and can make the body active for the morning again. This can interfere with the required quality and quantity of sleep.

Working at night in irregular shifts can keep you from getting the regular snooze time that most daytime workers take for granted. Shift Work Sleep Disorder is a risky condition that not only messes up sleep schedules but also causes a number of health disorders (gastrointestinal, psychoneurotic, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer). For the preservation of a shift worker’s health, it is essential to follow these strategies.

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