Shift Work

Shift Work

Shift work disorder occurs when you have difficulties adjusting to a work schedule that takes place during a time which most people sleep. It can involve evening or night shifts, early morning shifts, and rotating shifts. Many industries rely heavily on shift work, and millions of people work in jobs that require shift schedules. When you have shift work disorder, your body’s circadian rhythms and your work schedule are not able to be in sync. You may need to be awake for work, when your body actually need sleep or might be sleeping when your body expects to awake.

People with shift work disorder may sleep up to four hours less than the average worker. Shift work disorder causes you to have Excessive sleepiness, trouble sleeping or trouble falling asleep, or waking up before you’ve slept sufficiently. The quality of sleep may be poor, and you may wake up feeling unrefreshed, fatigued or exhausted. This can hurt your performance at work, and can put you at risk.

Not everyone who does shift work has shift work disorder. Most people who work shifts will experience some difficulty with these symptoms—for example waking up after fewer than 7-9 hours of sleep or feeling drowsy while on the job. For people with shift work disorder, however, this is an on-going problem that continually causes symptoms and starts to interfere with work or family life.

According to the International Classifications of Sleep Disorders, shift workers are at increased risk for a variety of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and gastrointestinal diseases. Whether this is related to the fact that shift workers are awake and active during the night hours or because they tend to simply sleep less in general is uncertain.

The symptoms of shift work disorder usually last as long as you keep the shift work schedule. The sleep problems usually tend to go away once you begin sleeping at a normal time again. Some people may have sleep problems even after the shift work schedule ends.

Shift work disorder is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Your circadian rhythms are your body’s internal clock that signals when you are supposed to feel sleepy or alert. Your circadian rhythms operate on a roughly 24-hour schedule.  In shift work disorder, melatonin production may occur when you need to be awake and alert for your job. Exposure to sunlight may prevent you from producing melatonin when you are supposed to sleep.

Some people have a more difficult time with certain shift work schedules. Many people have difficulty adjusting to overnight or rotating shifts.


Shift work disorder makes it difficult to get enough sleep each day. As a result, you may experience:

  • Excessive sleepiness/tiredness
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Lack of energy or momentum
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings, irritability and depression
  • General feeling of being unwell
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like upset stomach, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, and heartburn

There are a number of risks that are associated with the Shift work disorder, such as:

  • Injuries and accidents
  • Insomnia
  • Usage of sick time
  • Substance abuse due to use of drugs or alcohol to improve sleep
  • Poor quality of life
  • Frequent infections
  • Breast and prostate cancer
  • High Cholesterol levels
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity


Find out how Quality Sleep Care can help you with overcoming these symptoms.


Self-test and Diagnostics

If you have a schedule for at-least a month that requires you to work during the hours you normally would sleep, have trouble sleeping or staying asleep and are severely tired due to your work schedule and all this affecting your social, personal or work life then you might have shift work disorder. Our experienced staff can assist you with the methods to help your body adjust to your work schedule, improve your sleep and enable you to lead a healthy and happy life.

Before your appointment, you may be asked to maintain record of your sleep schedule for at least two weeks. This will help the sleep physician see your habits and give clues on what course of treatment to take. The physician will need to know your complete medical history. Be sure to inform him or her of any past or present drug and medication use. If the physician suspects other sleep disorders are causing your problems, you may be required to have an in-lab sleep study or a multiple sleep latency test (MSLT).



A person suffering from Shift Work disorder can be prescribed with certain medications and therapies. Medications like Melatonin supplements (natural product) or Sleeping Pills that help you fall or stay asleep can be useful in the short term or  may help you adapt better to a shift work schedule but long term use is not encouraged. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland and considered a signal for when your body is supposed go to sleep. It should be taken several hours before you plan to sleep. Therapies include Bright light therapy that involves exposure to a special artificial light at certain times to help reinforce your body clock and ease the transition to a new time zone. Schedule short sessions when you first wake up and midday.

Some general guidelines for decreasing the effects of shift work sleep disorder:

  • If you work rotating shifts, ask your manager to schedule a clockwise rotation. This means that your new shift will have a start time that is later than your last shift. It is easier to adapt to this type of rotation because it is easier to stay up late than to go to bed early.
  • Plan a nap before or during the night shift. Naps can improve alertness in night shift workers.
  • Avoid long commutes, which can take time away from sleeping.
  • Avoid driving after a night shift. Drowsy driving can put your life and the lives of other drivers at risk.
  • Avoid frequently rotating shifts. It is more difficult to deal with rotating shifts than it is to work the same shift for a longer period of time.
  • Plan ahead for a major change in a shift-work schedule.
  • Use moderate amounts of caffeine to help you stay alert on the job. Stop drinking coffee in the later portions of your shift so that it does not disrupt your sleep when it is time to go to bed.
  • Avoid exposure to sunlight if you need to sleep during the day.
  • Make sure others in your home are aware of your work schedule so that they help you provide with the environment for a sound sleep.
  • Maintain a sleep diary. This can help identify the problem and monitor its progression over time.