Staying awake when you have odd work hours
Feature Article- Thu., Apr. 28, 2011
Working shifts outside a traditional schedule can impact your body’s sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, leaving you sleepy during waking hours and unable to sleep when you need to.
If you have this problem, you’re not alone. Shift work disorder (SWD) is a recognized medical condition that can be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. It occurs when the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is out of sync with your work schedule – your body tells you to go to sleep when your work schedule requires that you stay awake. Approximately 15 million Americans work odd hours or non-traditional shifts, and are “at risk” for SWD. About 10 to 25 percent of American shift workers suffer from SWD, according to current research.
While some people may not consider their work schedule “shift work,” alternative work schedules can be found in many industries across the county. A wide range of occupations may require either permanent or occasional shift work, such as health care professionals, hospitality workers, manufacturing workers and protective services such as police, firefighters and first-responders.
SWD can affect many different parts of life. People who suffer from the condition may experience sleepiness-related accidents, impairment in work performance and even worsening of heart and stomach issues. Symptoms of SWD include a disturbance of your circadian rhythm that leads to excessive sleepiness during waking hours or trouble sleeping during sleeping hours.
“Realizing you or a loved one may be suffering from shift work disorder is an important first step in dealing with the condition,” says Dr. Mary Umlauf, chairwoman of The Wake-Up Squad (SM), an awareness program from Cephalon, that educates people about symptoms and the health concerns related to SWD. Umlauf is a spokesperson for this public disease education initiative and has been compensated by Cephalon for her time and expertise. “Through the website, TheWakeUpSquad.com, people at risk for shift work disorder and their loved ones can find information and resources about this disorder. There are even screening tools to help people discuss their symptoms with their health care professionals.”
When working alternative shifts, improving sleep alone may not improve the ability to cope with shift work. Even using sleep aids to improve sleep may not help someone stay awake on the job at night. This is because sleep is not the only factor that affects a person’s coping ability.
If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing the symptoms of shift work disorder, The Wake-Up Squad encourages you to learn more about this medical condition by speaking with a health care professional.
For more information about shift work order, visit www.TheWakeUpSquad.com.
Shift workers can improve their ability to sleep by:
• Turning on bright lights during nighttime hours to help to diminish drowsiness and improve wakefulness levels.
• Taking occasional naps to improve wakefulness and performance.
• Asking your health care professional about prescription and over-the-counter medications or supplements that can help you.
• Eliminating noise and light from the sleep environment by using eye masks or ear plugs.
• Keeping to the same bedtime and wake time schedule as much as possible, even on weekends.
• Avoiding caffeinated beverages and foods close to bedtime.
Courtesy of ARA Content