Unfortunately, shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a pretty common form of sleeping disorder – particularly among professionals in the medical field, firemen, police officers and security personnel. It affects people in these fields more than other fields because of the nature of the job and the hours they work. These professionals tend to work irregular hours that change from week to week or month to month. These constant changes to their hours, and subsequently their sleeping patterns, disrupt their body’s circadian rhythm and makes it very difficult for them to get quality sleep each day.
Shift work sleep disorder is also fairly common among college or university students when they change from one semester to the next and their schedules change with it. Their bodies are just getting used to waking up and sleeping at certain times and then their sleep patterns need to change due to their new schedule. This readjustment period is not an easy one and oftentimes, people will not be able to adjust well. This affects the amount of sleep they get as well as the quality of said sleep.
If you work in a job that has constantly changing hours or you’re a student, you’ll want to give yourself enough time in between your changing schedule to adjust. That means that you should start preparing for the upcoming change before it actually happens. That could mean that you have to stay up really late one night when you’re really tired. Or try to wear yourself out physically so that you can sleep early one night. The adjustment period is not easy for sure – but a couple days of adjustment is better than an entire month or semester of not being able to sleep well.
Not being able to sleep well due to shift work sleep disorder has the added effect of bringing on stress – which in turn makes it difficult to sleep. This vicious cycle can only be broken through a concentrated and planned effort. Determine how much of a change is coming and then figure out how many days are required to make the transition. Ideally, you’ll only want to change your sleep routine by one hour each night.
If you don’t have the time to slowly transition from one sleep schedule to the next – then you’ll need to starve yourself of sleep for one night in order to force your body over to the new schedule. This type of transition is not healthy but can be one of the only ways for shift workers like policemen, who may work days for two weeks and nights for the next two weeks – to be able to quickly adjust to the new sleep schedule.
If you think you may be suffering from shift work sleep disorder, you’ll likely be experiencing at least one of the following symptoms:
strong desire to nap throughout the day
unintentionally falling asleep
being more prone to accidents
impaired physical performance
becoming temperamental and irritable
impaired mental performance
Many people who suffer from shift work sleep disorder can’t do what’s ultimately needed to fix the problem – stop working shift work. Since this is the case, other treatments need to be considered. For many people, taking short naps of between 10 and 30 minutes can prove very effectual. Also, melatonin, called the dark hormone, has been used with great success to reset the body’s clock. This resetting of the body’s clock is what makes the transition easier from one shift to the next.