Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) is common amongst people working shifts and will be experienced at least at some time by most of those who work at night, have rotating day, evening and night time shifts or work early morning shifts.

-1/4 of all workers have shifts that are not during the daytime
-more than 2/3 of these workers have problem sleepiness and/ or difficulty sleeping
-1/3 of shift workers report short sleep periods of less than 6 hours on workdays
-30% report only a few adequate nights of sleep per month

Shift work impacts the release of hormones naturally secreted at night including melatonin, the “hormone of darkness” and its positive impact on health.

Symptoms of shift work sleep disorder:

• Excessive sleepiness when one needs to be awake, alert, and productive.
• Insomnia, including difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep.
• Sleep that feels unrefreshing or insufficient, including waking after too short a sleep.
• Fragmentation of sleep including having to break up sleep to accommodate family and other commitments.
• Difficulty concentrating.
• Lack of energy.
• Irritability or depression.
• Difficulty with interpersonal relationships including reduced libido and reduced fertillity.
• Chronic “sleep debt” in which one never seems to catch up on enough sleep.
• Microsleeps which are involuntary periods of seconds of sleep which lead to inattentiveness at work and potential risks with driving or operating equipment/ performing complex tasks.

Effect of shift work:

• Safety: significant increase in work-related accidents amongst shift workers as well as an increase in driving accidents to and from work amongst shift workers.
• Performance and productivity are both impacted by shift work with workers being most productive during daylight hours.
• Health, including hormonal problems, heart disease, digestive disorders, obesity, diabetes. Shift work has been classified as a probable human carcinogen .
• Quality of life and mental health: effects on QOL include higher divorce rates, impact on parenting including poor performance in children and impacts on behaviour in young children.
• Increased absenteeism which impacts employers.

Treatment: depends on what we find during the sleep study or consultation with the doctor. Treatment may include sleep hygiene, treatment of insomnia, treatment of OSA and other therapies.