Do you work night shift like 30% of all nurses? Are you tired and sleepy often? When you do go to bed, do you have trouble sleeping? Have these issues affected your work and personal life? Has it been a problem for a month or longer? If so, you may be suffering from shift work disorder. This disorder is a sleep disorder involving your circadian rhythm, and it can cause problems in your performance on the job as well as in other aspects of your life. Luckily, there are some things you can do to get yourself straight and to improve your health and your quality of life.
About Shift Work Disorder
Our bodies are designed to follow a 24-hour pattern of waking and sleeping, called the circadian rhythm. Naturally, we have the urge to sleep between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. as well as from 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. When you work nights, you are directly opposing this natural pattern. This causes excessive fatigue and lessened alertness, and can also make it difficult to sleep when your body thinks it should be awake. This causes the major shift work disorders of excessive sleepiness, insomnia, and hypersomnia.
Effects of Shift Work Disorder
Shift work disorder has a number of effects on the body including:
- Sleep time of 1-4 hours a day with non-restorative quality of sleep.
- Excess sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, headaches, decreased attention span, poor coordination, and loss of memory.
- Increased risk of mistakes in patient care.
- Digestive problems, heart problems, irregular menstrual cycle, and weight gain.
- Irritability, impatience, depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
Coping with Sleep Work Disorder
The most important thing is to make adequate sleep a top priority. Try to minimize your exposure to light on the way home from work, and follow your bedtime ritual once you are home. Try to go to sleep as soon as possible when you get home. Ask family and friends to respect your sleep time. Have other members of the household to wear headphones with computers, televisions, or music.
You can also try to cut down on the number of nights you work in a row. If you work a 12-hour shift, try to limit yourself to four shifts a week with days off in between. If you must work several nights in a row, try to get at least 48 hours off to recover.
On your days off, get plenty of sleep and avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, which may negatively affect your sleep patterns. If you must, use caffeine or prescription medication to promote wakefulness while working. However, these measures are no substitute for ample sleep.